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When Doctors Make Mistakes: About Humanness And Perfection

The best part of doctoring is its humanness. Machines can’t do it — not even Apple products.

But that’s the worst part, too. Since humans practice medicine, there will be “medical errors.” And when doctors err, people — not spreadsheets or profits — are hurt. That’s the rub. Like any endeavor, the greater the reward the greater the risk.  Those cards were put on the table in medical school.

“Don’t want mistakes? Don’t do anything. Don’t make any decisions. Don’t do any procedures. Then, there will be no errors,”  the grey-haired, Swiss-born cardiac surgeon counseled me many years ago after an imperfect ablation.

The headline was about a doctor’s error. It was a doozy. But for me, the story belies the headline. A Boston Globe reporter called a surgeon’s public admission of performing a wrong operation ”an unusual display of openness.” I would call it something else: Breathtaking. Unprecedented. Courageous. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Dr John M*

When I Really Felt Like A Doctor

PalMD over at The White Coat Underground recently asked: “When did you really feel like a doctor?” Interesting question that I could answer in a number of ways.

While I didn’t know it at the time, I felt like a doctor around 4am during my first night on call. I was an intern on the hematology ward at Texas Children’s Hospital. I was fresh out of medical school, I had chosen a residency known for its mind-boggling volume, and the kids were really sick. I had hit a point where I simply couldn’t keep up with what was in front of me. I stole away into the 6th-floor stairwell in the Children’s Abercrombie building, put my face into my hands, and began to cry.

My first call night was a metaphor for my career. I had no idea at the time that the idea of simply keeping up would be a theme that would follow me through my training and into my day-to-day work.

While I can’t remember the last time I cried at the hospital, I continue to struggle with input. I work to keep up with inbound information and professional social dialog. How I handle information or how I appear to handle it defines me as a physician. Harnessing this attention crash through technology will represent a major defining moment for the next generation of physicians.

*This blog post was originally published at 33 Charts*

Better Health Bloggers Make “O” Magazine’s “Best Doctor’s Blogs” List

Check out this preview article (dated October 20, 2010) by Madonna Behen on Oprah’s “O” Magazine website entitled “4 Doctor’s Blogs to Read Now,” where two of the four doctors’ blogs listed are regular Better Health content contributors. They are family physician Lucy Hornstein, M.D., author of “Musings of a Dinosaur,” and internist, cardiologist, and cardiac electrophysiologist Wesby Fisher, M.D., author of “Dr. Wes.”

An excerpt:

You thought physicians were robotic and cold? A new epidemic of personal blogs written by docs might change your mind. These medical scribes are boldly posting their real feelings (and worst fears) on the web, for all the world to see. Their journals provide us patients with an informative and humanizing look behind the professional mask.

Congratulations to these great physician bloggers of ours for making up half of the list!

The Humanistic Side Of Medicine

An excellent opinion piece by Sally Satel, M.D., a psychiatrist, appeared in the Wall Street Journal this morning about white coat ceremonies as ways to reinforce the humanistic qualities of medicine. The best part, however, was this perspective:

But the question of whether empathy can be taught—and, in particular, whether a white-coat ceremony is a good means for promoting that virtue—is a matter of some debate.

Judah Goldberg, a young doctor at Chilton Memorial Hospital in New Jersey raises an intriguing paradox. He asks how the white coat can bring doctors closer to the subjective experience of patients when, as an icon of the profession, it is meant to isolate and distinguish them from the lay community.

“To the extent that empathy can be taught through a ritual,” Dr. Goldberg told me, “a hospital gown, the common garb of human frailty, would be more fitting than a distancing white coat.”

I must say, the thought of everyone seeing each others’ posterior sides as they paraded across the stage at such a ceremony did make me smile. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Dr. Wes*

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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