EQUAL PARTNERS by Jody Heymann


A Physician's Call for a New Spirit of Medicine
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 A strangely unfocused, rambling book by a doctor who'd like to change the way physicians regard patients. Heymann, who teaches at both Harvard Medical School and Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, was hospitalized shortly after graduation from medical school when bleeding in her brain led to a seizure. What follows is a familiar tale of a patient searching for the right surgeon, trying to sort out confusing information and conflicting opinions, not being told the whole truth when problems arise, and later struggling to live with a chronic disability. Heymann, who began her internship only a few month's after brain surgery, found herself identifying with patients as her medical colleagues did not, and she shares here her firsthand knowledge of the ways in which doctors show unwitting, or witting, contempt for their patients. (For example, a cancer specialist spends all of two-and-a-half minutes obtaining permission from a young mother to do a bone-marrow biopsy on her baby, without explaining why it's necessary.) Heymann is clearly a physician with a conscience. Although her primary goal is to change the medical culture that denies patients partnership in decision-making, she anguishes at some length over such wrongs as the stigma society attaches to epilepsy, the inadequacies of health care in developing countries, and political crimes against Guatemalan refugees in Mexico. Her side trips into these areas, while revealing of her character, weaken the impact of her main theme. Although her expertise lies in health care policy, her final chapter on changing health care reads almost like an afterthought. A better balance would have been achieved had she spelled out in more detail her recommendations for changes in the training of physicians, what research gets done, and the economics of health care. More successful as a self-portrait than as a reasoned argument for policy change.

Pub Date: March 18th, 1995
ISBN: 0-316-35993-9
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Little, Brown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1995