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Read for your health: Book helps communication between doctors and patients

Related resources

"What Doctors Feel," by Danielle Ofri.

"When Doctors Don’t Listen," by Leana S. Wen.

"The Patient Will See You Now," by Eric Topol.

“How Doctors Think

by Jerome Groopman, M.D.

Understanding how doctors think can be empowering for patients. Through case histories and interviews, Dr. Groopman, Harvard professor of medicine, researcher and author writes that “on average a doctor interrupts a patient within eighteen seconds” of meeting. In that short time, a diagnosis and treatment is recommended. In some cases, this might lead to a misdiagnosis.



Doctors work within a step-by-step procedure, or algorithms, that may constrain their thinking rather than thinking outside of the box. The book describes the thought processes behind the decisions doctors make. These processes/errors named attributional, affective, cognitive biases and availability can result in a diagnosis that doesn’t quite fit or misses something important.

An intern in a large inner city hospital may see 10 trembling alcoholics all of whom have delirium tremens, a violent shaking due to withdrawal. An 11th jittery alcoholic will be judged to have DTs although there is a long list of possibilities for uncontrolled shaking.



A judgement may be secondary to emotion if a patient is a close friend. The doctor may not propose a hazardous or painful procedure that is otherwise indicated.

“The best doctors listen to their patients; ask open-ended questions. They remember their mistakes; incorporate them in their future thinking,” Groopman wrote.

Ultimately patients can assist doctors in considering other diagnoses by communicating more effectively.

Ann Noyes is a volunteer at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center’s Community Health Resource Center. To see the library’s collection of more than 1,600 books and videos on medical and scientific subjects visit opac.libraryworld.com/opac/home.php. Those interested in checking out an item may visit the Community Health Resource Center or call 970-870-1173.


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