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Ilanet.LimitingPrincipler1.2 - 29 Nov 2019 - 12:08 - GregorioIvanoff

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Português - When discussing Occam's razor in contemporary medicine, doctors and philosophers of medicine speak of diagnostic parsimony. Diagnostic parsimony advocates that when diagnosing a given injury, ailment, illness, or disease a doctor should strive to look for the fewest possible causes that will account for all the symptoms. However, this principle has very important limits in medical practice. The actual process that occurs when diagnosing a patient is a continuous flow of hypothesis and testing of that hypothesis, then modifying the hypothesis, and so on. In the context of this method, the principle of Hickam's dictum asserts that at no stage should a particular diagnosis be excluded solely because it does not appear to fit the principle of Occam's razor. The principle of Occam's razor, or parsimony, does not demand that the diagnostician necessarily opt for the simplest explanation, but instead guides the medical practitioner to seek explanations, without unnecessary additional assumptions, which are capable of accounting for all relevant evidence.

A key reason for using Hickam's dictum as a limiting principle to that of Occam's razor is that it is often statistically more likely that a patient has several common diseases rather than having a single, rarer disease that explains their myriad symptoms. Another key reason is that, independent of statistical likelihood, some patients do in fact turn out to have multiple diseases. In such cases, multiple categories of diagnosis may indeed have independent causes rather than a single source, i.e., may be due to separate events or combinations of events to which the patient may have been subjected or exposed. Thus, Hickam's dictum provides physicians with a counterbalancing principle to the unfettered use of Occam's razor in diagnosis. For example, Theodore Dalrymple, a career physician turned social critic, has written that multiple diseases or illnesses are the rule rather than the exception. He contends that adherence to medical parsimony is "a matter of taste more than of truth," and that patients are routinely misdiagnosed by clinicians who insist on finding a single underlying cause for multiple symptoms (Wikipedia, 2019).


Keywords: domain


Hickam's dictum. Available from < https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hickam%27s_dictum >. access on 13 July 2016.

-- GregorioIvanoff - 28 Nov 2019
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