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Logo of qualsafetyQuality and Safety in Health CareCurrent TOCInstructions for authors
Qual Saf Health Care. 2003 December; 12(Suppl 2): ii46–ii50.
PMCID: PMC1765779

Hindsight bias, outcome knowledge and adaptive learning


The ubiquitous nature of hindsight bias is a cause for concern for those engaged in investigations and retrospective analysis of medical error. Hindsight does not equal foresight. Investigations that are anchored to outcome knowledge run the risk of not capturing the complexities and uncertainties facing sharp end personnel and why their actions made sense at the time. Important lessons go unlearned if the exercise is simply to back track someone else's decision landmarks. Outcome knowledge can also bias our thinking on the quality of the processes that led to the outcome. This paper examines the influence of outcome knowledge in relation to reconstructive memory and legal testimony, ways for reducing the impact of outcome knowledge, and an adaptive learning framework that places hindsight bias in a broader context of rapid updating of knowledge.

Articles from Quality & Safety in Health Care are provided here courtesy of BMJ Group