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Publisher's Summary

A New Yorker staff writer, best-selling author, and professor at Harvard Medical School unravels the mystery of how doctors figure out the best treatments - or fail to do so. This book describes the warning signs of flawed medical thinking and offers intelligent questions patients can ask.

On average, a physician will interrupt a patient describing her symptoms within 12 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. He 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 have a profound impact on our health.

Groopman draws on a wealth of research, extensive interviews with some of the country's best physicians, and his own experiences as a doctor and 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 21st-century medical practice, giving doctors and patients the vital information they need to make better judgments together.

©2007 Jerome Groopman, M.D. (P)2007 Tantor Media Inc.

Critic Reviews

"A revealing, often disturbing look at what goes on in doctors' minds when treating patients....A highly pleasurable must-read. "(Kirkus) "I wish I had read this book when I was in medical school, and I'm glad I've read it now....Every reflective doctor will learn from this book....every prospective patient will find thoughtful advice for communicating successfully." (Publishers Weekly)

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I enjoy Groopman's articles in the New Yorker, and I took this selection after hearing his compelling interview on NPR. However, I was disappointed in the content of the book. This does not really tell us too much about how doctors think; what constitutes the complexity of a diagnosis or how doctors make decisions. Rather, it is more of a collection of stories about misdiagnosis or mistreatment of patients and friends of Dr. Groopman. And it turns out that Groopman is mostly the hero of the book -- either making the tough diagnosis himself or referring to one of his friends who saves the day. His friends happen to be located at Harvard, Mayo Clinic, and Sloan-Kettering. Not exactly the answer for the masses of Americans belonging to HMOs who cannot even get a specialty referral without a letter to a congressman.

The book starts out addressing the theme that young doctors are becoming too entranced with algorithmic medicine. He complains that they follow guidelines for care like robots on an assembly line. Most would agree, however, that the bigger problem in American medical care is the failure of doctors to adhere to evidence-based guidelines, rather than over-reliance on them. Care for diabetics, asthmatics, and hypertensives fall far short of what it should be and what would improve the health of the nation.

Dr. Groopman does share our pain, however. He had a day of distress because a doctor called him at home with a fatal mis-diagnosis while his wife was away skiing. He had the diagnosis corrected the next day at work, but lost a night's sleep over it.

Once you get past the self-congratulations, the old-boy network of super-docs, the confessions of imperfection in himself, and the self-pity; there are a few good points.
1. Get a second opinion.
2. Be an informed consumer.
3. Ask questions
3. If you do not like your doctor, get another one.
Not worth the read to learn these lessons.;

42 of 44 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Michael
  • Providence, RI, United States
  • 08-07-09

Terrible narration, great idea, good execution

To begin with, the narration was horrible. I am a doctor and had looked forward to this book with great enthusiasm. However the narrator's dry, business-like narration sounded like the worst stereotype of a condescending paternalistic doctor one could imagine. But to make things worse he frequently and repeatedly mispronounced medical terms. How hard would it have been to make a list of terms he did not recognize and ask Groopman how to say them?

As far as the book goes, it was generally excellent, and I have found it very instrumental in guiding my own thinking and avoiding mistakes. There were some sections that were silly, for example there is a section in which his fellow temple congregant, a mother named Rachel, underwent an ordeal in which a child she adopted got very sick. He spent way too much time on this chapter and focused, nearly obsessively, on her religious reflections which did nothing to advance the points he was making.
At other times he was repetitious. For the most part, however, this was an exhilarating and a refreshing way to look at medical errors and medical decision making, and is getting the attention it more than deserves from medical circles.

12 of 13 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Very informative

This book provides a fascinating insight into medical decision making in the absence of hard evidence and lives at stake. At the end of the book, I definitely had a much better feel for what doctors could reasonably know when making diagnoses and decide on treatment and how difficult it must be to recommend paths forward for medical interventions. One thing I definitely took away from this book is that doctors are not all-knowing and when in doubt, do get a second opinion even if it is just to get a sense of how differing opinions about a certain condition really are...
Great book, I have already recommended it to many of my friends and colleages as a "must read".

11 of 12 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Paul
  • San Francisco, CA, USA
  • 06-05-07

Totally flat reader

I really enjoy Jerome Groopman's columns in the New Yorker, but the book made him seem stiff, repetitive, and pompous. All the observations seemed trite and obvious and none of his case studies held my interest for their length. Even worse, the reader read everything in a flat monotone, reminiscent of a 1950s educational tape (e.g., "Your Friend, Aluminum"). Do not attempt this book while driving -- your mind will wander and you will fall asleep.

The best parts of the book are Groopman's discussing his own (rather than other doctors') experiences; particularly interesting was his description of his article on Cox-2 inhibitors, which kicked off much of the enthusiasm for those drugs in the US.

14 of 16 people found this review helpful

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  • Cathryn
  • Roanoke, TX, United States
  • 09-25-15

Odd narration, good book

Is there anything you would change about this book?

I thought the writing was good and the content was very interesting. Many of the cognitive issues addressed apply to areas of life other than medicine, so I think I will be able to apply some of the lessons from this book, even though I am not a doctor. It will probably make me a better patient, too.

What didn’t you like about Michael Prichard’s performance?

His voice sounded like a 1950's TV doctor. It was a bit jarring at first, especially in contrast to the content of the book. If I revisit this book, I will probably switch to reading it, rather than listening.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Robert
  • Yamhill, OR, United States
  • 12-18-09

How Doctors Think

Any health-care provider will greatly benefit from reading and applying the gems in this book. As a result, so will our patients. It is excellent in its science, its logic and its writing.

5 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • L
  • 01-13-09

How Emotion and Perception Affect Your Care

Doctors are human, just like us. And if you care about your health and want to get good health care results, it pays to remember this. The book is interesting and informative, with fascinating anecdotes, and provides useful insight, looking through the eyes of doctors.

5 of 7 people found this review helpful

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Very interesting

i think this will help me get through to some doctors hopefully before they shut me off like most do when they see a complicated case. i have personally experienced nanny of the doctors mentioned in this book that interrupt the patient within seconds of the patient telling them why they are there.

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Dated---couldn't finish

Great premise. Narrator was totally a throw back from the 50's. Combined with the masculine pronouns for the M.D., I had the impression that this was not current enough to represent how drs think now or the progression that may be needed.. I believe the idea is still valid but needs overhaul.

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Great thought-piece on the heuristics of medical decisions

Dr. Groopman is a very insightful hematologist and critique of the art of medicine. I really enjoyed learning of the many heuristics that doctors may fall into and considering the nuance and fallibility of medical practice. Dr. Groopman was an excellent conduit for this critical analysis because he is not only a cancer doctor, but also a surgery patient. He brings an empathetic, curious voice to the topic of care evaluation.