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The majority of medical errors are flaws in thinking rather than technical or implementation flaws. Through ample use of checklists and structured decision-making models, medical procedures are generally implemented with high precision. However, if a physician missed a presenting symptom or did not rule out alternate hypotheses, then the treatment would not meet the actual need of the patient, and the result would not be the desired one. A classic example of this is the overuse of antibiotics. Antibiotics can be effective for treating bacterial infections, but they are useless for viral infections. There are certainly tests to help determine whether the source of a sinus infection is viral or bacterial. However, because the tests are costly and take time to produce results, many physicians used to skip those tests, assume a bacterial infection, and prescribe antibiotics. Not only would the antibiotics be ineffective for helping overcome viral infections, but the unintended consequence is that we have an increasing number of bacteria strains resistant to what were once effective medications. (The ABCs of Curriculum-Based Evaluation)

Is it a medical term? I have been googling but haven't found the definition.

closed as off-topic by Hot Licks, Drew, choster, tchrist May 21 '17 at 3:20

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    It's a term in statistical testing (or if you prefer, in scientific theory in general): en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alternative_hypothesis Bacterial infection is the alternate hypothesis in your example. – michael.hor257k May 16 '17 at 23:31
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    What is a "hypothesis". Can there be only one, for a given scenario? – Hot Licks May 17 '17 at 0:38
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"Alternate hypothesis" is a technical term in statistics. However, I believe the author is not using the phrase that way in this passage. Here, the phrase simply means

alternate possible explanations

Usually the process of considering other possible explanations or diagnoses is called differential diagnosis.

  • @Lifeispicnic - Hope it helped. If so, you may want to upvote (click on the upward-pointing triangle) and accept (the checkmark). – aparente001 May 17 '17 at 23:02

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