Book Review & Giveaway: Your Medical Mind

Although most of you reading this blog face medical decisions both small and large all the time, the reality is that every single person will at some point be called up on to make decisions about how to handle a medical situation in their own lives or to consult on a decision for a loved one. Preparing yourself in advance with skills that can help make such decisions feel less random and out of your control is wise. The new book Your Medical Mind by Jerome Groopman, MD, and Pamela Hartz brand, MD, is a great resource for this purpose.

Your Medical Mind is a concise book but packed with examples of how other people have approached medical crises and important decisions about their care. Through these examples, the doctors help you make sense of statistics and learn how a percentage of risk reduction for a group applies to you personally. They describe how personality and emotions can influence how you make decisions. Through examples, they show you how people with different values and preferences approach decisions about the same issues differently.

Groopman and Hartzbrand address the fundamental role selecting your doctor plays in coping with your diagnosis, the personal nature of such choices and how to know if you’re making the right decision for you and your preferred level of autonomy in decision making. They also discuss the ever present doctor/patient communication gap and the role of communication in selecting a treatment provider. They also point out that sometimes the appearance of choice and control is an illusion when institutional policies and practices start to drive the train.

Of course, sometimes our ability to make decisions for ourselves is completely at risk. It is not uncommon for patients to become so incapacitated they must rely on their care providers and loved ones to make decisions for them. While we all know this is why we should have living wills and durable powers of attorney for health care decisions, there is great food for thought in this book about the balance of decision making between the medical team and families and the need to recognize that both have important roles to play when your own ability to make decisions is compromised.

Finally, in what was the most valuable section for me, the doctors talk candidly about regret and the consequences of decisions that don’t work out the way we hoped they would. As someone who has experienced a high level of regret and remorse after accepting treatments that were unnecessary and unwarranted and left me worse off rather than better, I was pleased to see this issue addressed. While there are things you can do to try to avoid these outcomes, it is also true that sometimes things take on a life of their own and we end up feeling regret anyway. As the doctors wisely point out near the end of the book, humans can adapt much more readily to a wide variety of circumstances than we give ourselves credit for. I think my day-to-day existence is living proof this is true. With time the regret becomes less profound and it no longer dominates your every thought. You move on, take things as they are and use what you learned in future decision making.

This book is going on my reference shelf for future use. Although I don’t anticipate any out of the ordinary medical decision-making anytime soon, we never know when we or our loved ones will need help in facing difficult medical situations. You can never be prepared enough.


I’m giving away a copy of Groopman and Hartz brand’s new book, Your Medical Mind. To be entered to win, please answer this question: “What do you find most difficult about making decisions about trying treatments or medications?” in a comment below with an email address where I can contact you if you’re chosen as the winner. The deadline for comments is midnight, Thursday, November 3, 2011, central time. Winners will be randomly chosen from all valid entries using

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DISCLAIMER: Nothing on this site constitutes medical or legal advice. I am a patient who is engaged and educated and enjoys sharing my experiences and news about migraines, pain, and depression. Please consult your own health care providers for advice on your unique situation.