Tuesday, February 21, 2006

In the news: Impressive Science Meets Unimpressed Patient

I'm not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV, but I think a lot about the limits of the medical profession, about the difficulty of integrating medical science into the real world of skeptical patients. Whatever researchers may learn, whatever the New England Journal may publish, it is up to the doctor to see that individual patients do something (or stop doing something) in order to accrue the benefit of that knowledge. It is up to the doctor to persuade a patient to quit smoking, to abandon ineffective or harmful alternative therapies, to stop drinking while pregnant. Are doctors equipped for this?

Dr. Abigail Zuger writes thoughtfully about this struggle in the NYT. Snip:
It is medicine's eternal quest, these days, to sell impressive science to unimpressed patients, and it is hard to think of a group less equipped to do it than doctors. Doctors are specifically trained not to think like normal people, not to see what others see or to reason as others reason. They er, we come to operate in an atmosphere so thin, so heady and attenuated with the power of statistical analysis, that one might wonder whether we are really on the same planet as the patients we try to convince of our truths.

Link (free req req'd)

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