Chances are that the reflexes you learned about in school were of the anatomical or physiological variety. Take the pupillary reflexes to light and accommodation, for example. Yet the more insidious reflexes that can plague us as well as our patients in practice may be those attributable to the cognitive biases of others.
Ignaz Semmelweis was not a very tactful physician. He was so convinced that his revolutionary observation about anti-septic hand washing prior to delivery would help keep mothers alive beyond childbirth that he berated people who disagreed with him and made influential enemies ultimately resulting in his death from the very condition he was trying to prevent.
As the review of Infectious Madness in tomorrow’s New York Times Book Review notes, the outright rejection of new paradigms of thought in medicine because they sound preposterous or pose inconveniences to current ways of practice is termed the Semmelweis Reflex, because so many doctors initially dismissed his insights. As we embark on the year 2016, the Semmelweis Reflex is a reminder that being right about something isn’t sufficient. How we go about helping others share our insights can be just as crucial.