2 biases in medicine, and how to avoid them


Why do we underestimate risk? This phenomenon isn’t unique to politics or natural disasters, and it contradicts our need to prepare for future events. It explains why it is hard to get healthy “millennial invincibles” to sign up for health insurance, why earthquake insurance policies skyrocket after an earthquake, and why people tend to underinvest for retirement. Two separate biases — availability and recency — explain why we make medical decisions that follow this perception of risk

Availability bias: You’re more likely to think of the risks you know

Behavioral economists refer to this phenomenon as availability — we assess the likelihood of a negative event based on how readily examples come to our minds. In other words, we believe a familiar risk is more likely to occur than an unfamiliar one. Patients often focus more on a terrible but uncommon illness if they know someone who has had it before. Physicians often refer to a familiar diagnosis when assessing new patients.

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