Overcoming Cognitive Bias

How to discuss disease management with your doctor.

When we’re scared, stressed or overwhelmed, our brain’s natural response is to simplify, or shortcut, decision-making to conserve the body’s resources. These mental shortcuts are known as cognitive biases, and they can prevent you from having productive conversations with your doctor.

Based on results from a two large, nationwide surveys that explored the role of cognitive biases in doctor-patient interactions, we identified three simple steps you can take to overcome cognitive biases in discussions with your healthcare team. At your next doctor’s appointment, consider the following:

  • Make a “how-to” plan: It’s important to have a comprehensive plan in place for managing your disease. You and your doctor should work together to identify practical steps, such as keeping a journal of symptoms you are experiencing, tracking appointments and medication in a calendar and organizing medical records and test results in a binder. Bringing these items to your appointments can help guide your conversations with your doctor to ensure your specific needs are being discussed at each visit.
  • Get specific: You and your doctor should discuss your goals in detail so you both know how to achieve them. This ensures that both parties are on the same page about what needs to be done to reach the best possible outcome. For example, if you have a goal of continuing your favorite hobby of singing in the choir, you should feel empowered to tell your doctor about this goal and then work together to determine what steps you can take to attain it.
  • Say what you feel: Emotions matter when making decisions about treatment, both in how they influence decision-making and in determining the best course of action. At times, you may feel anxious or overwhelmed when you are visiting the doctor, especially after receiving a difficult Even though it’s not easy, it’s best to share your emotions so they can be considered and addressed.

To help support productive conversations about your care, which can be over the span of many office visits, you can also:

  • Arm yourself with information from reputable sources and preparing questions in advance to ask your doctor. It may be helpful to write down anything that has been on your mind about your IPF as concerns or questions arise. By bringing that list with you to your next doctor’s appointment, it can give you the confidence you need to discuss what you are feeling.
  • Take notes when you are at your doctor’s appointment. Whether it’s you or your caregiver, don’t be afraid to write down any important information your doctor shares with you while you’re at their office.
  • Bring someone with you to your appointments whenever possible. Having a family member or other caregiver present to help take notes, ask questions and be a source of support is important – they may be able to offer you additional advice based on the discussion and what you’re experiencing.   

Using this guide to support conversations with your doctor may help you get the information you need to begin developing and sustaining a disease management plan that is right for you. Remember to follow up regularly with your healthcare team to discuss progress or challenges with your goals and to raise any questions or concerns. You can find more resources at pulmonaryfibrosis.org.