The amount of new health and medical information released on a daily basis can be overwhelming. With the constant bombardment of latest research and discoveries, and providers’ recommendations and standards of care changing, society is apt to be confused about what to make of the information being presented.
That’s what F. Perry Wilson, MD, MSCE, associate professor of medicine (nephrology), had in mind when writing his new book How Medicine Works And When It Doesn't: Learning Who To Trust To Get And Stay Healthy.
“The reason people are susceptible to medical misinformation is because of flaws in the medical system itself, it’s not that they’re stupid, ignorant, foolish, or gullible. More often than not, they're frustrated. They're having trouble getting an appointment to see their doctor. When they do see their doctor, their doctor doesn't have time to actually talk to them. The issues that are concerning to patients aren't being addressed by the medical establishment. And meanwhile they're being bombarded with ads on TV for pharmaceuticals that cost tens of thousands of dollars a year.”
Wilson wanted to help the average person without any medical training make sense of it all.
“When I sat down to write the book, it was really about rebuilding the trust between patients and medicine,” said Wilson. “Part of rebuilding trust is acknowledging your failures, and so this book acknowledges the failures of the U.S. medical system. At the same time, it reinforces that we all have to be smarter about the information we ingest.“
Issues that he addresses include cynicism, and how distrust is created between medical providers and patients.
Throughout the book, Wilson references stories of real patients and scenarios spanning his medical career. These situations and interactions have had an impact on him and how he practices medicine. Sharing these stories and how they shaped his views, what he refers to as “core medical memories,” make each chapter and the takeaways easier for the reader.
“If you talk to any doctor, there are patients and moments that stick with you forever. Sometimes that is because there was a lesson learned. There's some tough lessons that I've learned included in this book about things that I've done wrong, things that I regret often–those stick with you. There are positive experiences that stick with you too, and they form your core medical memories to some extent. And I knew that I needed to show people why what I'm talking about matters.”
There is a stress on the importance of how medicine and science have been evolving over time and how this influences a medical providers’ recommendation for care.
He explains how this is a sign of a good doctor, rather than a bad one. “There's this bias in our minds, a cognitive bias, which says that something that has been done for a long period of time is correct, but a lot of things change over time. There has to be evolution of knowledge over time–that's how we make things better. The patient population changes, people get older, and illnesses we're trying to treat change. New medications may work better. The initial study was preliminary and didn’t look at the most important outcome because it wouldn’t have been feasible, but now it is.”
Wilson began writing the book during triennial leave in early 2020. He had just released a Coursera course titled, “Understanding Medical Research: Your Facebook Friend is Wrong” in April 2020. The course launched in the beginning of a global pandemic when very little was known about COVID-19 and misinformation on the brand new disease was at its highest. Since its creation, the course has had over 75,000 individuals enroll globally.
The most challenging part about writing was keeping it simple for an average lay person. Wilson credits his editor, Colin Dickerman, at Grand Central Publishing, who would remind him who the audience was.
The book is being released on Tuesday, January 24, 2023 in hardcover, eBook, and audiobook by Grand Central Publishing. Wilson will be signing copies at R.J. Julia Booksellers on Wednesday, January 25, 2023 at 7 p.m.
Yale’s Section of Nephrology is committed to excellence in patient care, research, and education with the goal for both their faculty and trainees to be national and international leaders in the field of academic nephrology. To learn more about their mission and work, visit Nephrology.