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Br J Anaesth. 2012 Feb;108(2):229-35. doi: 10.1093/bja/aer387. Epub 2011 Dec 8.

Cognitive errors detected in anaesthesiology: a literature review and pilot study.

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Department of Anaesthesiology, David Geffen School of Medicine, UCLA, Los Angeles, CA 90095-7403, USA.



Cognitive errors are thought-process errors, or thinking mistakes, which lead to incorrect diagnoses, treatments, or both. This psychology of decision-making has received little formal attention in anaesthesiology literature, although it is widely appreciated in other safety cultures, such as aviation, and other medical specialities. We sought to identify which types of cognitive errors are most important in anaesthesiology.


This study consisted of two parts. First, we created a cognitive error catalogue specific to anaesthesiology practice using a literature review, modified Delphi method with experts, and a survey of academic faculty. In the second part, we observed for those cognitive errors during resident physician management of simulated anaesthesiology emergencies.


Of >30 described cognitive errors, the modified Delphi method yielded 14 key items experts felt were most important and prevalent in anaesthesiology practice (Table 1). Faculty survey responses narrowed this to a 'top 10' catalogue consisting of anchoring, availability bias, premature closure, feedback bias, framing effect, confirmation bias, omission bias, commission bias, overconfidence, and sunk costs (Table 2). Nine types of cognitive errors were selected for observation during simulated emergency management. Seven of those nine types of cognitive errors occurred in >50% of observed emergencies (Table 3).


Cognitive errors are thought to contribute significantly to medical mishaps. We identified cognitive errors specific to anaesthesiology practice. Understanding the key types of cognitive errors specific to anaesthesiology is the first step towards training in metacognition and de-biasing strategies, which may improve patient safety.

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