Getting To Know Your Medical Mind

This article was first published as “Bringing the Patient Back into Medicine” in The Jerusalem Report magazine.

Dr. Pamela Hartzband and Dr. Jerome Groopman (photo by Shelly Harrison Photography)

For many years now Dr. Jerome Groopman’s unfaltering voice for humanistic medicine has made itself heard despite the prevailing discourse of managed care directives and data-driven doctoring.

His numerous bestselling books and accessibly written articles (most notably in “The New Yorker,” where he has been a staff writer since 1998) have served as a cogent and heartfelt testament to his steadfast belief in the power of the personal narrative and the imperative of a sick individual’s choice to shape the physician-patient relationship.

Joining Groopman in his outcry against the commodification and industrialization of medicine is his wife of 32 years, Dr. Pamela Hartzband. He, an oncologist and hematologist at Harvard Medical School and she, an endocrinologist there, have written their first book together. The product of their collaboration, “Your Medical Mind: How To Decide What Is Right For You,” is intended to help patients cut through the confusion of the health care system, drug company advertising, media reports and neighborly advice to determine the right course of treatment for them. Groopman and Hartzband also offer an entirely new terminology to empower people to better understand and articulate their own healthcare decision-making reasoning.

In developing this new terminology the doctors’ first subjects for study turned out to be themselves. With their three grown children now out of the house, they began taking early morning walks together. “On these walks, we brainstormed and often talked about trying to understand why our patients would choose one course of action and not another,” Groopman recalled in a phone interview with The Jerusalem Report. “As we did this, we began to realize that each of us had a different approach or philosophy — a different medical mind, as we ultimately called it.”

Deeply influenced by his father’s death at the age of 55 while being treated for a heart attack at a less-than-state-of-the-art local hospital in Queens, New York, Groopman, now 59, became a maximalist with a technological orientation toward treatment. The 59-year-old Hartzband on the other hand, has always been more of minimalist and a doubter. With her naturalist orientation, she has preferred to let her body try to heal on its own before using medications or undergoing tests.

Wanting to better understand these different “medical minds” that they were beginning to recognize in themselves, the couple initially “looked at some of the classical decision analyses that had been applied to medicine,” said Hartzband during the phone interview. “And we found that they really were flawed and not useful. So we decided to go back to the patients.”

The rest of this article can be read in the December 19, 2011 issue of The Jerusalem Report. It is not yet posted online, and once it has been posted, it will be behind a paywall for some time.

© 2011 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.

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2 Responses to “Getting To Know Your Medical Mind”

  1. Nechama Tamler Says:

    we very much enjoyed hearing them speak at the JCCSF and bought the book to give as a gift (but then I read it first!) They are terrific folks–glad you had the chance to meet them. I own most of Groopman’s books for lay people–indispensable for the home library.

  2. Renee Ghert-Zand Says:

    I agree with you, Nechama. I own and have read all of Groopman’s books – love them. He and his wife are mensches of medicine.

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