Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Snap Judgments Can Be Deadly

About once a year, a seemingly complex subject is made simple by an author and the book becomes an unexpected phenomenon. Today's book may just be this year's version of Blink or Freakonomics.

As with many books, I became intrigued with How Doctors Think while listening to NPR's Morning Edition. Jerome Groopman is an M.D. and the holder of a chair at Harvard Medical School. He tells us that somewhere between 15 and 25 percent of all patient encounters with a doctor result in a misdiagnosis. Why? His belief is that doctors are prone to making rapid decisions based on prior inputs, as if diagnosing a malady were some type of timed contest. Giving the patient an answer quickly certainly creates a feeling of confidence in the patient, but it is the thought processes of doctors that we must try to understand.

"Most doctors, within the first 18 seconds of seeing a patient, will interrupt him telling his story and also generate an idea in his mind [of] what's wrong. And too often, we make what's called an anchoring mistake — we fix on that snap judgment."

Listen to the Morning Edition interview with Jerome Groopman here.

How Doctors Think by Jerome Groopman, M.D.
ISBN 9780618610030 Houghton-Mifflin, March 2007 (Hardcover) $26

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