How Doctors Think

by Lara Killian

24 February 2010

cover art

How Doctors Think

Jerome Groopman

(Houghton Mifflin)

Health care has been in the news lately, especially in the US. You might have noticed.

As I’ve been getting older and taking more control over my own personal health, I’ve become more concerned about the costs, naturally—but also more interested in why doctors do what they do.

The concept of getting a second opinion is timeless. But what are the factors that influence whether a patient gets listened to and treated appropriately? I picked up Jerome Groopman’s How Doctors Think to try to get inside their heads.

Groopman, a professor at the Harvard Medical School, writes an accessible account of his experience trying to thoughtfully comprehend medical practice in various specialty areas. Unsurprisingly, the best care seems to come from situations where patients question their doctors closely, and when doctors have the time and space to base clinical practice on the best evidence available.

When doctors are rushed, or patients are unwilling to communicate clearly and assertively, mis-diagnoses are more likely. Groopman offers a variety of anecdotes about situations where a patient moves from specialist to specialist, trying to find the correct diagnosis. The doctors who seem the most successful are those who approach every patient with an open mind and treat them as a whole person. After reading How Doctors Think, I feel better about questioning the need for a test and the reasoning behind a diagnosis. How do you feel about your next doctor’s visit?

How Doctors Think


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