Excerpt from How Doctors Think by Jerome Groopman, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

How Doctors Think

by Jerome Groopman

How Doctors Think
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Mar 2007, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2008, 336 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
BookBrowse Review Team

Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt


The trunk of the clinical decision tree is a patient’s major symptom or laboratory result, contained within a box. Arrows branch from the first box to other boxes. For example, a common symptom like “sore throat” would begin the algorithm, followed by a series of branches with “yes” or “no” questions about associated symptoms. Is there a fever or not? Are swollen lymph nodes associated with the sore throat? Have other family members suffered from this symptom? Similarly, a laboratory test like a throat culture for bacteria would appear farther down the trunk of the tree, with branches based on “yes” or “no” answers to the results of the culture. Ultimately, following the branches to the end should lead to the correct diagnosis and therapy.

Clinical algorithms can be useful for run-of-the-mill diagnosis and treatment — distinguishing strep throat from viral pharyngitis, for example. But they quickly fall apart when a doctor needs to think outside their boxes, when symptoms are vague, or multiple and confusing, or when test results are inexact. In such cases — the kinds of cases where we most need a discerning doctor — algorithms discourage physicians from thinking independently and creatively. Instead of expanding a doctor’s thinking, they can constrain it.

Similarly, a movement is afoot to base all treatment decisions strictly on statistically proven data. This so-called evidence-based medicine is rapidly becoming the canon in many hospitals. Treatments outside the statistically proven are considered taboo until a sufficient body of data can be generated from clinical trials. Of course, every doctor should consider research studies in choosing a therapy. But today’s rigid reliance on evidence-based medicine risks having the doctor choose care passively, solely by the numbers.

Statistics cannot substitute for the human being before you; statistics embody averages, not individuals. Numbers can only complement a physician’s personal experience with a drug or a procedure, as well as his knowledge of whether a “best” therapy from a clinical trial fits a patient’s particular needs and values.

Each morning as rounds began, I watched the students and residents eye their algorithms and then invoke statistics from recent studies. I concluded that the next generation of doctors was being conditioned to function like a well-programmed computer that operates within a strict binary framework. After several weeks of unease about the students’ and residents’ reliance on algorithms and evidence-based therapies alone, and my equally unsettling sense that I didn’t know how to broaden their perspective and show them otherwise, I asked myself a simple question: How should a doctor think?

This question, not surprisingly, spawned others: Do different doctors think differently? Are different forms of thinking more or less prevalent among the different specialties? In other words, do surgeons think differently from internists, who think differently from pediatricians? Is there one “best” way to think, or are there multiple, alternative styles that can reach a correct diagnosis and choose the most effective treatment? How does a doctor think when he is forced to improvise, when confronted with a problem for which there is little or no precedent? (Here algorithms are essentially irrelevant and statistical evidence is absent.) How does a doctor’s thinking differ during routine visits versus times of clinical crisis? Do a doctor’s emotions — his like or dislike of a particular patient, his attitudes about the social and psychological makeup of his patient’s life — color his thinking? Why do even the most accomplished physicians miss a key clue about a person’s true diagnosis, or detour far afield from the right remedy? In sum, when and why does thinking go right or go wrong in medicine?

Copyright © 2007 by Jerome Groopman. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member
and discover your next great read!

Join Today!

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
The Opposite of Everyone
by Joshilyn Jackson

"Quirky and appealing characters, an engaging story, and honest dialogue make this a great book!"
- BookBrowse

About the book
Join the discussion!

Award Winners

  • Book Jacket: All We Have Left
    All We Have Left
    by Wendy Mills
    September 11, 2001 is a date that few Americans will ever forget. It was on this day that our ...
  • Book Jacket: A Great Reckoning
    A Great Reckoning
    by Louise Penny
    Canadian author Louise Penny is back with her twelfth entry in the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache ...
  • Book Jacket: Homegoing
    Homegoing
    by Yaa Gyasi
    It's all very well to challenge people to be the masters of their own destiny, but when you&#...

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Victoria
    by Daisy Goodwin

    Daisy Goodwin breathes new life into Victoria's story, and does so with sensitivity, verve, and wit." - Amanda Foreman

    Read Member Reviews

Who Said...

Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint.

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Word Play

The Big Holiday Wordplay:
$400+ in Prizes

Enter Now

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.