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Books  >>  Health

Danielle Ofri

What Doctors Feel

Danielle Ofri What Doctors Feel How Emotions Affect The Practice Of Medicine
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Biographical note:

Danielle Ofri is an attending physician at Bellevue Hospital and the cofounder and editor-in-chief of the Bellevue Literary Review. Her previous books are Singular Intimacies, Incidental Findings, and Medicine in Translation. Ofri writes frequently for the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, CNN.com, and other publications. 

Country of final manufacture:

US

Excerpt from book:

Introduction
Why Doctors Act That Way


The experiences of medical training and the hospital world have been extensively documented in books, television, and film. Some of this has been probing and incisive, and some has been entertaining nonsense.
Much has been written about what doctors do and how they frame their thoughts. But the emotional side of medicine—the parts that are less rational, less amenable to systematic intervention—has not been examined as thoroughly, yet it may be at least as important.
The public remains both fascinated and anxious about the medical world—a world with which everyone must eventually interact. Within this fascination is a frustration that the health-care system does not function as ideally as people would like. Despite societal pressures, legislative reforms, and legal wrangling, doctors don’t always live up to these ideals. I hope to delve beneath the cerebral side of medicine to see what actually makes MDs tick.
One might reasonably say, I don’t give a damn how my doctor feels as long as she gets me better. In straightforward medical cases, this line of thinking is probably valid. Doctors who are angry, nervous, jealous, burned out, terrified, or ashamed can usually still treat bronchitis or ankle sprains competently.
The problems arise when clinical situations are convoluted, unyielding, or overlaid with unexpected complications, medical errors, or psychological components. This is where factors other than clinical competency come into play.
At this juncture in our society’s history, nearly every patient—at least those in the developed world—can have access to the same fund of medical knowledge that doctors work from. Anyone can search WebMD for basic information or PubMed for the latest research. Medical textbooks and journals are available online. The relevant issue— the one that has the practical impact on the patient—is how doctors use that knowledge.
There has been a steady stream of research into how doctors think. In his insightful and practically titled book How Doctors Think, Jerome Groopman explored the various styles and strategies that doctors use to guide diagnosis and treatment, pointing out the flaws and strengths along the way. He studied the cognitive processes that doctors use and observed that emotions can strongly influence these thought patterns, sometimes in ways that gravely damage our patients. “Most [medical] errors are mistakes in thinking,” Groopman writes. “And part of what causes these cognitive errors is our inner feelings, feelings we do not readily admit to and often don’t even recognize.”1
Research bears this out. Positive emotions tend to be associated with a more global view of a situation (“the forest”) and more flexibility in problem solving. Negative emotions tend to diminish the importance of the bigger picture in favor of the smaller details (“the trees”). In cognitive psychology studies, subjects with negative emotions are more prone to anchoring bias—that is, latching on to a single detail at the expense of others. Anchoring bias is a potent source of diagnostic error, causing doctors to stick with an initial impression and avoid considering conflicting data. Subjects with positive emotions are also prone to bias; they are more likely to succu “Taut, vivid prose. . . . She writes for a lay audience with a practiced hand.” —New York Times

"Here is a book that is at once sad and joyful, frightening and thought-provoking.  In her lucid and passionate explanations of the important role that emotions play in the practice of medicine and in healing and health, Danielle Ofri tells stories of great importance to both doctors and patients.” —Perri Klass, author of Treatment Kind and Fair: Letters to a Young Doctor

“An invaluable guide for doctors and patients on how to ‘recognize and navigate the emotional subtexts’ of the doctor-patient relationship.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Yet her insightful and invigorating book makes the case that it’s better for patients if a physician’s emotional compass-needle points in a positive direction.” —Booklist (starred review)

“Rich and deeply insightful. . . . A fascinating journey into the heart and mind of a physician struggling to do the best for her patients while navigating an imperfect health care system.” —Boston Globe

“With grace, courage, humility, and compassion, Bellevue Hospital physician Ofri  gives voice and color to the heartbreak, stress, and joy that attends medical practice.” —Library Journal


From the Hardcover edition.


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