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How Good Is Your Doctor At Diagnosing You?

We’ve all been there. It often starts with some kind of recurring pain or dull ache. We don’t know what’s causing the pain or ache. During the light of day we tell ourselves that it’s nothing. But at 3:00am when the pain wakes you, worry sets in: “Maybe I have cancer or heart disease or some other life-ending ailment.” The next day you make an appointment to see your doctor.

So now you’re sitting in the exam room explaining this scenario to your doctor. Based on your previous experience, what’s the first thing your doctor would do?

A. Order a battery of tests and schedule a follow-up appointment.

B. Put you in a patient gown and conduct a thorough physical examination, including asking you detailed questions about your complaint before ordering any tests.

If you answered “A,” you have a lot of company. A recent post by Robert Centor, M.D., reminded me of yet another disturbing trend in the doctor-patient interaction. The post, entitled “Many doctors order tests rather than do a history and physical,” talks about how physicians today rely more on technology for diagnosing patients than their own “hands-on” diagnostic skills — a good patient history and physical exam, for example.

Prior to the technology revolution in medicine over the last 20 years, physician training taught doctors how to diagnose patients using with a comprehensive history and physical exam. More physicians today are practicing “test-centered medicine rather than patient-centered medicine.” Medical schools focus on teaching doctors to “click as many buttons on the computer order set as we possibly can in order to cover every life-threatening diagnosis.” The problem is that medicine is still an imperfect science, and technology is not a good substitute for an experienced, hands-on diagnostician. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Mind The Gap*

When Diagnosing, Doctors Often Ignore Patients’ Social Factors

A recent study from the Annals of Internal Medicine found that doctors often discounted a patient’s social situation when making a medical diagnosis.

Lead researcher Saul Weiner “arranged to send actors playing patients into physicians’ offices and discovered that errors occurred in 78 percent of cases when socioeconomic concerns were a significant factor.”

Evan Falchuk, commenting on the results, provides some context:

It’s hard to expect even the most gifted clinician, trying to make it through yet another week of a hundred or more patient encounters, to get these difficult decisions right. Too much of the context of a patient’s care gets lost in the endless churn of patient visits that the health care system imposes on doctors.I suspect this is enormously frustrating for doctors, although it’s worse for patients. What the researchers call a failure to “individualize care,” a patient might call “not being paid attention to.” It’s a dynamic that anyone who’s been ill has probably seen firsthand.

These findings are entirely unsurprising. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at*

Medical Testing, Doctors, And “X-Ray Vision”

Boston Celtics basketball player Kendrick Perkins injured his knee during the NBA Finals against the Lakers when he landed awkwardly. Unable to weightbear, he left Game 6 not to return for the following pivotal Game 7.

Based on his mechanism of injury and his physical examination, his trainer reported that he tore his medial collateral ligament (MCL) as well as the posterior cruciate ligament (PCL). More amazingly, this was done without the help of a MRI. Since Perkins was unable to play the final game, there was no urgent medical need to expedite the test, as regardless of the result his season was already done.

How do doctors know what’s wrong without X-ray vision or an imaging test? (Note that Perkins did get a X-ray, but X-rays generally don’t show ligament injuries.) Is it guessing? Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Saving Money and Surviving the Healthcare Crisis*

Latest Interviews

IDEA Labs: Medical Students Take The Lead In Healthcare Innovation

It’s no secret that doctors are disappointed with the way that the U.S. healthcare system is evolving. Most feel helpless about improving their work conditions or solving technical problems in patient care. Fortunately one young medical student was undeterred by the mountain of disappointment carried by his senior clinician mentors…

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How To Be A Successful Patient: Young Doctors Offer Some Advice

I am proud to be a part of the American Resident Project an initiative that promotes the writing of medical students residents and new physicians as they explore ideas for transforming American health care delivery. I recently had the opportunity to interview three of the writing fellows about how to…

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Latest Book Reviews

Book Review: Is Empathy Learned By Faking It Till It’s Real?

I m often asked to do book reviews on my blog and I rarely agree to them. This is because it takes me a long time to read a book and then if I don t enjoy it I figure the author would rather me remain silent than publish my…

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The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

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Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

I am hesitant to review diet books because they are so often a tangled mess of fact and fiction. Teasing out their truth from falsehood is about as exhausting as delousing a long-haired elementary school student. However after being approached by the authors’ PR agency with the promise of a…

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