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Consider how personal bias affects peer review

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Human nature contributes to bias by allowing us to use psychological “shortcuts” to reduce complexity and ambiguity in the world. We all wish that life were simpler, and our brains try to accommodate this wish by finding shortcuts to decisions by relying on past patterns of thinking. This enables us to provide a rational response within the context of a simpler and less-threatening world. The two main types of bias related to human nature are personal bias and group bias.

Personal bias has two aspects: emotion and thought. These biases come from our view of the world that is created by the sum of our individual experiences: where we grew up, our parents’ values, how our friends act, and how we were trained. Although we might make conscious efforts to overcome personal bias, we all retain some degree of it as part of our individuality.

Personal bias is more likely to affect peer review when individuals are not accountable for their decisions. This is not because these are bad people—they are simply good people in a flawed system. The case studies in this book provide several examples of peer review structures and procedures that, prior to redesign, increased the likelihood of personal bias, such as having a department chair conduct the entire case review process from case screening to decision. To reduce personal bias in peer review, consider requiring reviewers to provide a written rationale for their findings (even on care-appropriate cases), having a committee make the final decision on all cases, and implementing clear conflict of interest practices.

Group bias occurs when a group of individuals has a shared set of beliefs or experiences that result in a relatively predictable way of thinking or responding. This concept of “groupthink” results in the group tending to accept information that meets its common paradigm and reject, or at least not consider, information that doesn’t fit within it.

Lack of diversity in a group can create this bias. Therefore, to avoid group bias, structure the group to ensure that other views are included. There are two types of group bias that tend to affect peer review: professional bias (e.g., physicians think differently than nurses) and specialty bias (e.g., surgeons think differently than internists). One of the main reasons that medical staffs implement some form of multi-specialty peer review committees is that such committees reduce the likelihood of groupthink by bringing all perspectives to the table.

Source: Peer Review Benchmarking