Pet Peeve: “High Index of Suspicion”

How often have you heard this phrase in a talk or seen it in a print article:

“Maintain a high index of suspicion”

What does this mean??? It’s been popping up in papers and textbooks for at least the last 20 years. And to me, it’s meaningless. You try to figure out that sentence!

An index is a number, usually mathematically derived in some way. Yet whenever I see or hear this phrase, it doesn’t really apply to anything that is quantifiable. What the author is really referring to is “a high level of suspicion”, not an index.

This term has become a catch-all to caution the reader or listener to think about a (usually) less common diagnostic possibility. As trauma professionals, we are advised to do this about so many things, it really has become sad and meaningless.

Bottom line: Don’t use this phrase in your presentations or your writing. It’s stupid. And feel free to chide any of your colleagues who do. Give us some concrete tips so we don’t miss the diagnosis!

Reference: High index of suspicion. Ann Thoracic Surg 64:291-292, 1997.

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