Summary and book reviews of How Doctors Think by Jerome Groopman

How Doctors Think

By Jerome Groopman

How Doctors Think
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  • Hardcover: Mar 2007,
    320 pages.
    Paperback: Mar 2008,
    336 pages.

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Book Summary

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.

INTRODUCTION

Anne Dodge had lost count of all the doctors she had seen over the past fifteen years. She guessed it was close to thirty. Now, two days after Christmas 2004, on a surprisingly mild morning, she was driving again into Boston to see yet another physician. Her primary care doctor had opposed the trip, arguing that Anne’s problems were so long-standing and so well defined that this consultation would be useless. But her boyfriend had stubbornly insisted. Anne told herself the visit would mollify her boyfriend and she would be back home by midday.

Anne is in her thirties, with sandy brown hair and soft blue eyes. She grew up in a small town in Massachusetts, one of four sisters. No one had had an illness like hers. Around age twenty, she found that food did not agree with her. After a meal, she would feel as if a hand were gripping her stomach and twisting it. The nausea and pain were so intense that occasionally she vomited. Her family ...

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Reviews

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In a similar vein to Malcolm Gladwell's Blink, Groopman suggests that if doctors can become more aware of the thinking process that they go through to reach a diagnosis, and in particular to the role that their first impression plays in that process, they can become better diagnosticians. He suggests that patients recognize that "misguided care results from a cascade of cognitive errors", and thus they can help the diagnostic process by presenting their symptoms in such a way that the correct diagnosis can be made.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

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Media Reviews
New York Magazine - Sam Anderson

Groopman also has advice for patients. Instead of being terrified and intimidated, we should say things like, “I sense that we may not be communicating well” and “Is there anything that doesn’t fit your diagnosis?” and “Is it possible I have more than one problem?” While I can no more imagine myself saying any of these things to an actual doctor than I can imagine slapping a mountain lion in the face with a piece of raw chicken, thanks to Groopman I can begin to see the wisdom of trying.

The Washington Post - David Brown

His task is to offer practical advice to both patients and physicians. He succeeds at both.

The New York Times - William Grimes

Dr. Groopman, a clear writer and a humane thinker, presents as an art as well as a science, despite the spectacular advances in medical technology.

The New York Times Sunday Book Review - Michael Crichton

Here is Groopman at the peak of his form, as a physician and as a writer. Readers will relish the result.

Elle Magazine

A cogent analysis of all the wrong ways his fellow practitioners are trained to approach the patients they treat.

Booklist - Ray Olsen

A book to restore faith in an often-resented profession, well enough written to warrant its quarter-million-copy first printing.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Signature Reviewed by Perri Klass. [H]is passionate honesty gives the book an immediacy and an eloquence that will resonate with anyone interested in medicine, science or the cruel beauties of those human endeavors which engage mortal stakes.

Author Blurb Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, authors of Freakanomics
Jerome Groopman has written a unique, important, and wonderful book about a central paradox of modern life: even though diagnosing an illness is often as much art as science, we want our doctors to speak with scientific surety. Groopman gives a rationalist's tour of the doctor’s thought processes -- or lack thereof -- and yet, unlike many rationalists, he never veers toward cynicism. You’ll never look at your own doctor in the same way again -- for better or worse.

Reader Reviews
Dayna

Interesting Glimpse into the Mind of Doctors
This book shows how doctors diagnose patients. Some use snap judgments and others use various diagnostic tools...but usually it's a combination of the two. I feel that I've learned something about how doctors come to their decisions.

Mercedes

A must read for every patient
This book should be given to every patient, so they can be on an equal footing and now how the system works and why it works the way it does. Well researched and explained from the inside out, it demystifies a whole area of life that all of us will ...   Read More

Julie

How Doctors Think
A very readable account of how doctors form the medical diagnoses that they do and ways that we, as patients, can help. The real-life cases are fascinating, and I appreciated the fact that they all pretty much had happy endings. This book proved to ...   Read More

Kathleen

Insightful and enlightening
In today's labyrinth of medical care, it is critical to be an educated and involved patient. How Doctors Think is an invaluable aid in understanding how doctors arrive at an accurate diagnosis. The epilogue is particularly useful for patients and ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Jerome Groopman, M.D., holds the Dina and Raphael Recanati Chair of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and is chief of experimental medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. He has published more than 150 scientific articles. He is also a staff writer at The New Yorker and has written editorials on policy issues for the New Republic, the Washington Post, and the New York Times. Full bio.

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Dr Groopman has written many articles for The New Yorker, some of which are reprinted ...

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