Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Information and Resources

Speaking to Your Doctor

The key to health may be knowing when to listen, when to talk.

WebMD Feature

May 15, 2000 -- In his engaging and acclaimed new book, Second Opinions: Stories of Intuition and Choice in the Changing World of Medicine, Jerome Groopman, MD, tells seven life-and-death stories that illustrate the dangers of not listening or not speaking up. Groopman is the Recanati Professor at Harvard Medical School, a staff writer for The New Yorker, chief of experimental medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, and, as his writing reveals, a vulnerable human being.

He begins his book with the cautionary tale of his own pigheadedness as a young patient. He then recalls his hesitance to speak up as the parent of a sick infant -- a reticence that almost led to his son's death from an intestinal obstruction. And in the course of a tale about saving a patient's life, he confesses his own medical mistake years earlier that resulted in a patient's death. In his only Internet interview, Groopman responded to questions from WebMD openly and with a research scientist's eye for detail.

Recommended Related to Health Ins & Medicare -- Step 4

Health Care Reform and Preventive Care: FAQ

As a result of the Affordable Care Act, many health insurance plans are now required to pay in full for preventive health services, such as well visits and routine checkups. WebMD readers have asked many questions about preventive care and the services now available as a result of health care reform. Here are answers to the five most commonly asked questions.

Read the Health Care Reform and Preventive Care: FAQ article > >

WebMD: While each of the seven stories you tell in your book stands on its own, was there one main point you were trying to communicate?

Groopman: Yes. The point is really in the story about our son who almost died because of two sequential medical misjudgments. That was a transforming experience for both my wife and me. As the years went by, I thought about it more and felt it was very important to recount that story (and the others in the book) to give both patients and doctors the courage to come closer in terms of communication.

WebMD: The stories seem to be about there being a time to talk and a time to listen. You said your experience as a patient with a ruptured disc in search of a quick fix -- because you were determined to run in the Boston Marathon -- taught you more about listening than you learned in medical school. Where did you go wrong?

Groopman: I told that story about myself because I was a very bad patient. I was young and cocky and really determined to "doctor shop" until I found an orthopedic surgeon who told me, glibly, exactly what I wanted to hear. I've regretted that decision for the last 21 years. It changed my life, and not for the better, in terms of functioning. I would have benefited from listening more closely to the other physicians who offered more conservative approaches and also from having someone with me [in the exam room], because when you're a patient, you're confused and frightened. I was in pain and I made a mistake. (See How to Ask for a Second Opinion)

WebMD: It's pretty hard when you're young and healthy to imagine you can be permanently changed by not listening. Is there a way to teach people this?

Hot Topics

WebMD Video: Now Playing

Click here to wach video: Dirty Truth About Hand Washing

Which sex is the worst about washing up? Why is it so important? We’ve got the dirty truth on how and when to wash your hands.

Click here to watch video: Dirty Truth About Hand Washing

Popular Slideshows & Tools on WebMD

hands on abdomen
Can you catch one?
Woman sitting in front of UV lights
Is yours working?
woman using breath spray
What's causing yours?
womans hand on abdomen
Are you ready for baby?
MS Overview
Recognizing symptoms.
bowl of yogurt with heart shape
Eat for a healthy heart.
woman doing pushups
To help you get fit.
Colored x-ray of tooth decay
Know what to look for.
Woman sitting with child
Do you know the symptoms?
mosquito
Stings, bites, burns, and more.
Allentown, PA
Are you living in one?
Thyroid exam
See how much you know.

Women's Health Newsletter

Find out what women really need.