How Doctors Think by Jerome Groopman, M.D.

Dr. Groopman is the chair of medicine at Harvard Medical School and chief of experimental medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. The idea for this book came to him when he realized his interns, residents, and medical students did not readily think deeply about their patients’ symptoms to arrive at a diagnosis. Frequently, the students’ conclusions were correct, but when they weren’t, there was potential for things to go terribly wrong.

Using real-life examples, Groopman explains a physician’s thought process and how it may be flawed. As patients, we expect our doctors to be infallible. We want to believe that each illness presents in a very precise way that is easily recognized by our doctor, and our physician wants to earn our trust by being quick and decisive. Of course, not all symptoms are easy to diagnose and not all patients respond to an illness in the same way.

Add to this the fact that medicine is a business.

To be profitable, a doctor must see more patients in less time. “On average,” the book jacket reads, “a physician will interrupt a patient describing her symptoms within eighteen seconds.” This doesn’t give much time to hear the whole story, and, much as we don’t like to admit it, doctors are human. Feelings, first impressions, and assumptions can affect their diagnoses.

So what can the reader do to ensure their doctor considers all the possibilities and comes to the correct diagnosis? In an entertaining and highly readable way, Dr. Groopman gives specific advice on how to communicate with your physician and advocate for yourself (or a family member) without putting your doctor on the defensive.

And, while I consider this book an essential read for patients, How Doctors Think is also directed (perhaps mostly so) at doctors. Groopman knows the challenges of working in the medical field—he himself has made some of the same errors he examines in his book. The author approaches each example with sensitivity and explains how successful physicians have learned to adapt their methods to minimize errors. The best doctors, he shows, have learned what guides Dr. James Lock, chief of cardiology at Boston’s Children’s Hospital, through the diagnosis process. “What we know is based on only a modest level of understanding,” says Lock. “If you carry that truth around with you, you are instantaneously ready to challenge what you think you know the minute you see anything that suggests it might not be right.”

Lock’s philosophy is the basis of Groopman’s thesis in How Doctors Think, and the first step for patient and doctor as they start on their journey to wellness.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.


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