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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. SignatureReviewed by Perri KlassI wish I had read this book when I was in medical school, and I'm glad I've read it now. Most readers will knowJerome Groopman from his essays in the New Yorker, which take on a wide variety of complex medical conditions, evocatively communicating the tensions and emotions of both doctors and patients.But this book is something different: a sustained, incisive and sometimes agonized inquiry into the processes by which medical minds—brilliant, experienced, highly erudite medical minds—synthesize information and understand illness. How Doctors Think is mostly about how these doctors get it right, and about why they sometimes get it wrong: "[m]ost errors are mistakes in thinking. And part of what causes these cognitive errors is our inner feelings, feelings we do not readily admit to and often don't realize." Attribution errors happen when a doctor's diagnostic cogitations are shaped by a particular stereotype. It can be negative: when five doctors fail to diagnose an endocrinologic tumor causing peculiar symptoms in "a persistently complaining, melodramatic menopausal woman who quite accurately describes herself as kooky." But positive feelings also get in the way; an emergency room doctor misses unstable angina in a forest ranger because "the ranger's physique and chiseled features reminded him of a young Clint Eastwood—all strong associations with health and vigor." Other errors occur when a patient is irreversibly classified with a particular syndrome: "diagnosis momentum, like a boulder rolling down a mountain, gains enough force to crush anything in its way." The patient stories are told with Groopman's customary attention to character and emotion. And there is great care and concern for the epistemology of medical knowledge, and a sense of life-and-death urgency in analyzing the well-intentioned thought processes of the highly trained. I have never read elsewhere this kind of discussion of the ambiguities besetting the superspecialized—the doctors on whom the rest of us depend: "Specialization in medicine confers a false sense of certainty." How Doctors Think helped me understand my own thought processes and my colleagues'—even as it left me chastened and dazzled by turns. Every reflective doctor will learn from this book—and every prospective patient will find thoughtful advice for communicating successfully in the medical setting and getting better care.Many of the physicians Dr. Groopman writes about are visionaries and heroes; their diagnostic and therapeutic triumphs are astounding. And these are the doctors who are, like the author, willing to anatomize their own serious errors. This 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. (Mar. 19)Klass is professor of journalism and pediatrics at NYU. Her most recent book is Every Mother Is a Daughter, with Sheila Solomon Klass.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Bookmarks Magazine

Jerome Groopman, Harvard professor of medicine, AIDS and cancer researcher, and New Yorker staff writer in medicine and biology, isn't new to the popular medical-writing scene. Before How Doctors Think, he penned three other books—The Anatomy of Hope, Second Opinions, and The Measure of Our Days—that explore the role of art in the hard science of medicine. Here, Groopman's readable prose emphasizes the human element, the give-and-take so important to successful diagnosis and treatment. One critic, however, compares the book's medical pyrotechnics to an episode of the medical show House, while another takes issue with the author's stance against Big Pharma. For the most part, critics see Groopman's latest effort as a compelling meditation on the interactions between doctors and patients—an effort reminding us that mistakes and miscommunications can be minimized but not eliminated.

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 319 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; Reprint edition (March 12, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0547053649
  • ISBN-13: 978-0547053646
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (308 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #8,673 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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. His previous books include the New York Times bestseller The Anatomy of Hope, Second Opinions, and The Measure of Our Days. Groopman lives in Brookline, Massachusetts.

Customer Reviews

This is a well written and very informative book on how doctors arrive at a diagnostics.
Gaetan Lion
This book offers some good advice about how to be better served when you're face to face with a doctor and need to ask a question or make a decision about your care.
Walter H. Bock
This alarming statistic introduces Dr. Jerome Groopman's compelling analysis of how doctors think--and what this means for patients seeking diagnoses.
Mary Whipple

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

337 of 373 people found the following review helpful By A Family Physician on June 10, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Jerome Groopman's "How Doctors Think" has been given generally favorable reviews in the lay press and many readers have echoed that praise. From this physician's point of view, the book is a disappointment.

On the positive side, Dr. Groopman's book is an attempt to bring to light some issues surrounding errors in medicine, a topic that is not discussed often enough in the medical and general literature. He discusses how physicians can make cognitive errors when they attempt distill an array of scattered bits of information in order to arrive at a conclusion to the question: what condition is this patient suffering from? He also tries to identify forces in the current American medical system that undermine a physician's ability to think more broadly and deeply about a patient's illness. His limited efforts in these areas can be a helpful starting point for patients, medical students, and physicians who are beginning to grapple with a simple fact: doctors are human, and they make mistakes.

On the negative side, Dr. Groopman offers little in the way of concrete suggestions for clinicians to fix the problems he identifies. He indicates the current system is driving physicians to see more patients in less time, but offers no realistic proposals for doctors or patients that would allow for a less hurried atmosphere. He makes a number of suggestions on how physicians can think more clearly: think outside the box, be wary of "going with your gut", don't judge a patient by her outward appearance, be prepared in your mind for the atypical patient, consider the possibility of more than one diagnosis, and other pearls of wisdom. While they are good recommendations, they fall far short of a concrete program for improving one's diagnostic skills and thought processes.
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Format: Hardcover
This alarming statistic introduces Dr. Jerome Groopman's compelling analysis of how doctors think--and what this means for patients seeking diagnoses. Groopman is curious to discover how one doctor misses a diagnosis which another doctor gets. Interviewing specialists in different fields, he analyzes the ways they approach patients, how they gather information, how much they may credit or discredit the previous medical histories and diagnoses of these patients, how they deal with symptoms which may not fit a particular diagnosis, and how they arrive at a final diagnosis.

Throughout, he considers the doctors' time constraints, the pressures on them to see a certain number of patients each day, the limitations on tests which are imposed by insurance companies or by hospitals themselves, and the many options for treating a single disease. He is sympathetic, both toward the patient and the physician, and, because he himself has had medical problems, he provides insights from his own experience to show how physicians (and patients) think.

Case histories abound, beginning with the 82-pound woman, whose celiac disease was not diagnosed for fifteen years. Here Groopman analyzes the uses and misuses of clinical decision trees and algorithms used by many doctors and hospitals to assess probabilities and make decision-making more efficient. Sometimes, however, it is necessary for a doctor to depart from the algorithm and obey intuition. Recognizing when the physician is "winging it"--depending too much on intuition and too little on evidence--is a challenge for both patients and other physicians.
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68 of 74 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Richard G. Petty on May 27, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Most doctors are highly educated, hard working people. They may sometimes get a bit tetchy because they overwhelmed by the demands made on them, but most of the time they do their best. Yet in our blame culture there are places in America where you can't get a specialist to treat you: they have all been driven out of business by lawyers representing unhappy clients. The question of why this has come to pass has occupied the minds of the American medical profession for three decades.

For more than a decade, Groopman's trenchant analyses have always been illuminating, and he has a rare gift for communicating them.

This is one of the best books that he has written, about one of the issues that may lead to medical errors: simply not thinking well. It is a very real factor. We all - and not just doctors - jump to conclusions; believe what others tell us and trust the authority of "experts." Clinicians bring a bundle of pre-conceived ideas to the table every time that they see a patient. If that have just seen someone with gastric reflux, they are more likely to think that the next patient with similar symptoms has the same thing, and miss his heart disease. And woe betides the person who has become the "authority" on a particular illness: everyone coming through his or her door will have some weird variant of the disease. As Abraham Maslow once said, "If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail." To that we have to add that not all sets of symptoms fall neatly into a diagnostic box. That uncertainty can cause doctors and their patients to come unglued. Sometimes when doctors disagree it is based not on facts, but on different interpretations of this uncertainty.
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