Objective: The objectives of this study were to highlight the intimate role that cognitive biases play in clinical decision making in the pediatric emergency department and to recommend strategies to limit their negative impact on patient care outcomes.
Methods: This was a descriptive study of 3 cases of presumed asthma exacerbation evolving into alternate diagnoses.
Results: The role cognitive biases played in either delay to diagnosis or missed diagnosis contributing to patient morbidity are illustrated in each case.
Conclusions: Common cognitive biases play a role in the unique milieu of the pediatric emergency department. A case series of presumed patients with asthma illustrates how mental shortcuts (heuristics) taken in times of high decision density and uncertainty may lead to diagnostic errors and patient harm. Suggestions to address and prevent cognitive biases are presented.