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How Doctors Think

2007 non-fiction book by Jerome Groopman

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A book you need to read and digest before you get sick or injured

  • Dec 7, 2008
  • by
They say that knowledge is power.  Every so often a book comes along that substantially improves the chances of a person successfully navigating an unfamiliar or stressful situation.  One such book is Dr. Jerome Groopman's latest offering "How Doctor's Think".  This is a book written by a physician that is intended for general audiences.  The good doctor has done us all a real service here.

For the average person a sudden dibilitating injury or the emergence of a life-threatening illness can be devastating.  Patients hang on to the hope that the doctor or specialist they are seeing has the magic formula to fix whatever is wrong quickly and to make everything right in their world again.  As Dr. Groopman points out time and again in "How Doctors Think" this is all too frequently very wishful thinking.  For despite the remarkable advances in medical procedures and the introduction of promising new drugs there remain a host of variables that can color each individual case.  In addition patients must remember that like everyone else a doctor is the sum total of his or her life experiences.  Despite the rigorous training doctors undergo they still have their own individual prejudices and biases that occasionally can contribute to diagnostic errors.  Sometimes they see things that are not there and at other times they overlook what would seem to most to be perfectly obvious.  Given the time limits and financial constraints that have been imposed on our doctors by hospitals and insurance companies it is a wonder that more errors are not made.  Throughout "How Doctors Think" Dr. Groopman presents the reader with a number of fascinating case studies in which a physician or specialist is asked to diagnose what is going on with a particular patient.  Dr. Groopman is not merely interested in the diagnosis itself but also wants to understand how and why the practitioner arrived at that conclusion.  The good doctor even recalls a situation where he himself was the patient.  He explains why he felt it was necessary to consult with four specialists in different parts of the country before his problem was correctly diagnosed.  Towards the end of "How Doctors Think" Dr. Groopman touches on the role the major pharmaceutical companies play in all of this.  There are so many new drugs and procedures being offered today and many of the drug companies are peddling them directly to the consumer.  This is a relatively new marketing strategy and it has created an entirely new dynamic where patients are coming to the doctor requesting a particular drug or treatment.  This is an important and potentially dangerous development that people really need to get up to speed on.

But let us not get paranoid here.  History shows that our doctors still do make the right call in an overwhelming percentage of cases.  What Dr. Groopman is recommending is that each and every one of us educate ourselves so that when the time comes we can be active participants in our own health care.  By having the ability to ask the right questions we only will encourage our doctors to think more broadly and to consider more possibilities.  I found "How Doctors Think" to be very well written and highly informative.  It is a book that I am happy to recommend.
How Doctors Think

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August 08, 2010
Paul, I think you'd also benefit from Surviving Your Doctors, reviewed by @JSMaresca! :) It is very similar in the subject matter. 
More How Doctors Think reviews
review by . April 20, 2009
  When Dr. Jerome Groopman began his medical internship at the Massachusetts General Hospital, he placed a high priority on facts. While in medical school he had tirelessly tried to "store an encyclopedia in [his] mind" as so that when faced with patients, he could "open the mental book and find the correct diagnosis and treatment." Thirty years later he saw students and residents relying on statistics, algorithms, "evidence-based" guidelines -- tools he feared would shackle their cognitive …
About the reviewer
Paul Tognetti ()
Ranked #2
I guess I would qualify as a frustrated writer. My work requires very little writing and so since 1999 I have been writing reviews on non-fiction books and anthology CD's on amazon.com. I never could … more
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About this book


On average, a physician will interrupt a patient describing her symptoms within eighteen seconds. In that short time, many doctors decide on the likely diagnosis and best treatment. Often, decisions made this way are correct, but at crucial moments they can also be wrong -- with catastrophic consequences. In this myth-shattering book, Jerome Groopman pinpoints the forces and thought processes behind the decisions doctors make. Groopman explores why doctors err and shows when and how they can -- with our help -- avoid snap judgments, embrace uncertainty, communicate effectively, and deploy other skills that can profoundly impact our health. This book is the first to describe in detail the warning signs of erroneous medical thinking and reveal how new technologies may actually hinder accurate diagnoses. How Doctors Think offers direct, intelligent questions patients can ask their doctors to help them get back on track.

Groopman draws on a wealth of research, extensive interviews with some of the country’s best doctors, and his own experiences as a doctor and as a patient. He has learned many of the lessons in this book the hard way, from his own mistakes and from errors his doctors made in treating his own debilitating medical problems.

How Doctors Think reveals a profound new view of twenty-first-century medical practice, giving doctors and patients the vital information they need to make better judgments together.

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ISBN-10: 0618610030 (hbk.)
ISBN-13: 9780618610037 (hbk.)
Author: Jerome Groopman
Genre: Science, Medicine, Physician & Patient
Publisher: Houghton Miflin
Date Published: March 19, 2007
Format: Hardcover
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