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Doctor Explores Decision-making and Diagnoses

Harvard Medical School's Dr. Jerome Groopman came up with the idea for his book "How Doctors Think" while watching medical students make snap judgments while diagnosing patients. Groopman talks about how doctors get diagnoses right and sometimes wrong.

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  • SUSAN DENTZER, NewsHour Health Correspondent:

    Dr. Jerome Groopman of Harvard is a leading authority on blood, cancer and HIV. He's spent years doing research, treating patients, and training young physicians.

    From personal and professional experience, he's found that doctors frequently make mistakes in diagnosis, figuring out the nature and cause of a patient's disease. He's written a new book about it called "How Doctors Think."

    We met with him recently at his Boston lab and asked him what led him to write the book.


    I was teaching Harvard medical students, and we were seeing patients in the hospital. And these are bright, motivated, compassionate young people. And I realized that they were jumping very quickly to decisions, making snap judgments, not thinking in a deep and expansive way. And often they didn't come to the right diagnosis about what was wrong with the person.


    How common did you find that misdiagnosis really is?


    It's remarkably common: 15 percent of all people are misdiagnosed; some experts in the field think it's as high as 20 percent to 25 percent. And in half of all of those cases, there's serious harm or even death to the person.


    And, in fact, you say this is the most common source of medical errors, not technical errors, like you wrote out the wrong prescription for the patient.


    In the past few years, there's been important focus on safety issues, system solutions, make sure the bracelet has the correct name of the patient, that the blood tests are not mixed up in the lab, all very important. But when it comes to correct diagnosis, the roots are in errors in thinking.