Have you ever wondered why it is that two different doctors, presented with the exact same information, would come to two entirely different conclusions? Whether they’re evaluating a medical study or determining the safest option for treatment, medicine is rife with disagreement. And hearing differing expert opinions can make a decision even more difficult for a patient considering whether or not to undergo a procedure, take a medication or decide between competing options to treat a disease (or the risk of one). We know that the science is uncertain, but why can’t experts make up their minds?
I’ve assumed in the past that this had to do with people’s respective medical backgrounds, or perhaps one expert isn’t as up-to-date on the latest research or as experienced as the other. But while attending the Health Journalism 2013 conference in Boston last month, I heard endocrinologist Pamela Hartzband and oncologist Jerome Groopman present a different case while speaking to a packed auditorium of conference attendees. Even though they both attended Ivy League medical schools, completed their residencies at Massachusetts General and eventually got married, their opinions on medical treatments are as different as night and day.
Why is that? Groopman and Hartband actually discussed their different temperaments in a book they co-wrote, Your Medical Mind: How To Decide What’s Right For You. In the book, and the talk they gave, they define four different temperaments that affect the way decisions are made and information is interpreted— both in a patient and in a healthcare worker. While these temperaments can change situationally and over time, being aware of the fact that people view medical decisions through these frameworks was eye opening.
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