‘More than words’: interpersonal communication, cognitive bias and diagnostic errors

Maria R. Dahm, Maureen Williams, Carmel Crock

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


During the diagnostic process, clinicians may make assumptions, prematurely judge or diagnose patients based on their appearance, their speech or how they are portrayed by other clinicians. Such judgements can be a major source of diagnostic error and are often linked to unconscious cognitive biases - faulty quick-fire thinking patterns that impact clinical reasoning. Patient safety is profoundly influenced by cognitive bias and language, i.e. how information is presented or gathered, and then synthesised by clinicians to form and communicate diagnostic decisions. Here, we discuss the intricate links between interpersonal communication, cognitive bias, and diagnostic error from a patient's, a linguist's and clinician's perspective. We propose that through patient engagement and applied health communication research, we can enhance our understanding of how the interplay of communication behaviours, biases and errors can impact upon the patient experience and diagnostic error. In doing so, we provide new avenues for collaborative diagnostic error research striving towards healthcare improvements and safer diagnosis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)252-256
Number of pages5
JournalPatient Education and Counseling
Issue number1
Early online date12 May 2021
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • Interpersonal communication
  • cognitive bias
  • diagnostic error
  • Patient engagement
  • Patient safety
  • applied linguistics


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