A Medical Humanist's Notes

Then and Now

As I think of Virginia Wolf looking for “diamonds in the dustheap,” I dig through piles of materials that sit not far from my desk.   What I recently found was an Associated Press story published February 3, 2003 titled “Institute Emphasizes Human Side of Medicine,” which describes a program that I developed to facilitate doctor-patient […]

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Doctors Have a Hard Job

The primary focus of my role as a medical humanist has been to help patients prepare to open conversations with healthcare providers about their health status and planning of care. I can recall instances when I was working at the cancer center in Bennington when patients would ask their oncologist about uncomfortable topics such as […]

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Artificial Intelligence and Empathy: Are They Compatible?

In my work as a medical humanist, I’ve witnessed how healthcare professionals’ empathic communication skills can improve a patient’s understanding of their diagnosis, prognosis and treatment options. Now, to my surprise, a recent study shows “chatbot-generated responses outperformed physician- generated responses in both quality and empathy.” The authors conclude that chatbots can improve physician performance […]

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Is There a Right Time to Withhold Difficult Medical News?

There is no prescribed timing for when to share difficult medical news. This can be as true for doctors with their patients as it is for patients with loved ones. There can be many reasons for withholding medical information, including doctors avoiding uncomfortable emotionally laden conversations or patients feeling a need to protect loved ones. […]

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What Does Cancer Screening Tell Us?

Cancer is an especially frightening disease. To “catch it early” we have come to rely on screening tests such as a mammogram, PSA, and colonoscopy. Whether a physician recommends a test or we learn about it through advertisements, we have come to believe that early detection will significantly increase life expectancy. Yet, a recent article […]

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Can a Low-Tech Tool Improve Healthcare Delivery?

We are all grateful for high-tech innovations in medical science. In a recent blog I spoke about the benefits of artificial intelligence in helping doctors make accurate diagnoses and develop more effective treatment plans. Despite these advances in technology, a patient’s understanding of medical information can still be a challenge.   In describing the clinician’s […]

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