Thinking about thinking: implications for patient safety.

Kathryn Montgomery*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

7 Scopus citations

Abstract

Clinical medicine, a learned, rational, science-using practice, is labelled a science even though physicians have the good sense not to practise it that way. Rather than thinking like scientists - or how we think scientists think - physicians are engaged in analogical, interpretive reasoning that resembles Aristotle's phronesis, or practical reasoning, more closely than episteme, or scientific reasoning. In medicine, phronesis is clinical judgment; and while it depends on both a fund of information and extensive experience, somehow it is not quite teachable. This practical, clinical rationality relies on case narrative for teaching and learning about illness and disease, for recording and communicating about patient care and, inevitably, for thinking about and remembering the details, as well as the overarching rules of practice. At the same time, "anecdotal" remains the most pejorative word in medicine, and the tension between the justifiable caution this disdain expresses and the pervasive narrative structure of medical knowledge is characteristic of clinical knowing generally: a tug-of-war between apparent irreconcilables that can be settled only by an appeal to the circumstances of the clinical situation. Practical rationality in the clinical encounter is characterized by a productive circulation between the particular details of the patient's presentation and general information about disease stored as a taxonomy of cases. Evidence-based medicine can improve this negotiation between general knowledge and the patient's particulars, but it cannot replace it. In a scientific era, clinical judgment remains the quintessential intellectual strength of the clinician. Why, then, do we not teach the epistemology of medicine? Understanding the mis-description of physicians' thinking - and the accompanying claim that medicine is, in itself, a science - could mitigate the misplaced perfectionism that makes mistakes in medicine personal and unthinkable.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)e191-194
JournalHealthcare quarterly (Toronto, Ont.)
Volume12 Spec No Patient
StatePublished - 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Thinking about thinking: implications for patient safety.'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

  • Cite this