Errors in clinical diagnosis: a narrative review

Zunaid Ismail Vally, Razia A.G. Khammissa*, Gal Feller, Raoul Ballyram, Michaela Beetge, Liviu Feller

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Diagnostic errors are often caused by cognitive biases and sometimes by other cognitive errors, which are driven by factors specific to clinicians, patients, diseases, and health care systems. An experienced clinician diagnoses routine cases intuitively, effortlessly, and automatically through non-analytic reasoning and uses deliberate, cognitively effortful analytic reasoning to diagnose atypical or complicated clinical cases. However, diagnostic errors can never be completely avoided. To minimize the frequency of diagnostic errors, it is advisable to rely on multiple sources of information including the clinician’s personal experience, expert opinion, principals of statistics, evidence-based data, and well-designed algorithms and guidelines, if available. It is also important to frequently engage in thoughtful, reflective, and metacognitive practices that can serve to strengthen the clinician’s diagnostic skills, with a consequent reduction in the risk of diagnostic error. The purpose of this narrative review was to highlight certain factors that influence the genesis of diagnostic errors. Understanding the dynamic, adaptive, and complex interactions among these factors may assist clinicians, managers of health care systems, and public health policy makers in formulating strategies and guidelines aimed at reducing the incidence and prevalence of the phenomenon of clinical diagnostic error, which poses a public health hazard.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of International Medical Research
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • Judgment
  • analytic reasoning
  • cognitive bias
  • decision-making
  • diagnostic error
  • medical uncertainty
  • non-analytic reasoning


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