Sunday, June 03, 2007

Groopman on medical error: it's not all about systems

There's an interesting blog post by Rob Cunningham over at Health Affairs, ostensibly about Jerome Groopman's new book, How Doctors Think. Here's a sample:

[T]he subtlety of the cognitive biases associated with diagnostic error in Groopman’s work and other studies suggests a daunting re-education challenge. Greater reciprocity in doctor-patient relations is a part of the answer that is consistent with many IT champions’ vision of patient-centered care. Other problems are not nearly as well recognized. Mark Graber and colleagues, cited above, found “premature closure,” or the inclination of physicians to settle on a diagnosis before they have gathered enough information or considered all the alternatives, to be the single most common source of cognitive failure. But there are a whole slew of other mental and behavioral weaknesses that may enter into the clinical encounter and drive it into a ditch.

The bottom line, according to Groopman, is that doctors often don’t ask the right questions and don’t listen carefully enough when the patient answers. . . .

It's an interesting problem, and not just for medical schools and training programs. Earlier in the blog post, Cunningham referred to "rushed patient encounters and imperious, overconfident practitioners [as] merely the most obvious symptoms of what can go wrong." I don't know what legislators and regulators can do about imperious and overconfident practitioners, but it's certainly worth asking what systemic conditions have contributed to the rushed patient encounters, as well as other health-care ills -- e.g., "an apparent decline in physicians’ clinical skills, driven at least in part by increasing dependency on high-tech diagnostic tools and financial incentives to see more and more patients."

When we get the health care system we deserve, we also get the practitioners (and practices) we deserve, as well.

Meanwhile, Groopman made an appearance on the Colbert Report recently. Here are the (somewhat predictable) results:

Shouldn't someone at his publisher's have told Dr. Groopman he was going onto a comedy show?

posted by tommayo, 10:52 AM

Health care law (including public health law, medical ethics, and life sciences), with digressions into constitutional law, poetry, and other things that matter