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The Ethical Imperative to Think about Thinking: Diagnostics, Metacognition, and Medical Professionalism

  • MEREDITH STARK and JOSEPH J. FINS

Abstract:

While the medical ethics literature has well explored the harm to patients, families, and the integrity of the profession in failing to disclose medical errors once they occur, less often addressed are the moral and professional obligations to take all available steps to prevent errors and harm in the first instance. As an expanding body of scholarship further elucidates the causes of medical error, including the considerable extent to which medical errors, particularly in diagnostics, may be attributable to cognitive sources, insufficient progress in systematically evaluating and implementing suggested strategies for improving critical thinking skills and medical judgment is of mounting concern. Continued failure to address pervasive thinking errors in medical decisionmaking imperils patient safety and professionalism, as well as beneficence and nonmaleficence, fairness and justice. We maintain that self-reflective and metacognitive refinement of critical thinking should not be construed as optional but rather should be considered an integral part of medical education, a codified tenet of professionalism, and by extension, a moral and professional duty.

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