BEDSIDE MANNERS: The Troubled History of Doctors and Patients by Edward Shorter

BEDSIDE MANNERS: The Troubled History of Doctors and Patients

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Yet another examination of our growing dissatisfaction with the medical profession. Shorter's diagnosis: doctors have become ""disease oriented"" rather than ""patient oriented,"" while patients have become more savvy, more symptom oriented, and considerably less respectful of physicians' authority. To prove his point, he provides a brief history of medicine from the mid-18th century on. This tour is anecdotal, often amusing, sometimes horrifying and always interesting. We meet what Shorter calls the ""traditional doctor,"" an 18th-century bonesetter, bloodletter and dispenser of dubious (and often dangerous) nostrums. In the mid-19th century comes the ""modern doctor"" with anaesthetics, a knowledge of germ theory, stethoscopes, sphygmomometers, ECGs, X-rays, and better drugs. Knowing he couldn't cure such scourges as tuberculosis, pneumonia, polio and scarlet fever, he listened to his patients, encouraged and calmed them. The pills he dispensed were usually useless--but they often worked because the patients believed in him. Then came the antibiotics and immunization serums of the mid-20th century that either cured or prevented a whole panoply of ailments. With them came what Shorter calls the ""postmodern doctor"" and his alter-ego and antagonist, the ""postmodern patient."" Medical training shifted to courses in biochemistry, pharmacology, and immunology. Knowing that a battery of tests would provide a diagnosis, doctors began to give less time to patients--particularly those with psychosomatic complaints. The bedside visit disappeared as well as comforting office sessions. Even though these were therapeutic, the postmodern doctor hustles patients out of the office or recommends a psychiatrist. The postmodern patient is angry at this treatment, tends to distrust doctors even while going moro frequently to them and (like the traditional patient) increasingly relies on self-dosing and holistic and other non-medical practititioners. Having diagnosed the problem, Shorter merely ends with a question and a possible prognosis: ""Will doctors return to training students in the nearly abandoned 'art of curing'? If not. . .the medical profession will continue on its path of crisis and frustration."" Not much new, but exceptionally readable.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1985
Publisher: Simon & Schuster