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This is only a test

Yale Medicine Magazine, 1998 - Winter/Spring


Patients have questions, Yale physicians have answers.

When faced with medical tests, patients and their families generally have questions galore. Yale faculty have teamed up to provide answers in a new book, The Yale University School of Medicine Patient's Guide to Medical Tests, published in December by Houghton Mifflin Co.

The book's 620 pages are packed with information on common and not-so- common diagnostic procedures. Each of its 29 chapters is written by a Yale School of Medicine full-time faculty physician who specializes in the field being covered.

"The book helps patients through the diagnostic process; it lets them and their families know what the process is, what to expect, how to prepare," says Barry L. Zaret, M.D., the book's senior editor. "We want to demystify the process and help patients to be a greater part of that process."

The associate editors are Peter I. Jatlow, M.D., HS '65, professor and chairman of laboratory medicine, and Lee D. Katz, M.D., HS '86, associate professor of radiology and director of diagnostic imaging. Dr. Zaret, the Robert W. Berliner Professor of Medicine and chief of cardiovascular medicine, also was an editor of The Yale University School of Medicine Heart Book, published five years ago.

The book's first section covers topics important to all readers. It discusses patients' rights and informed consent, examines the role of screening, and provides overviews of current diagnostic imaging techniques (like CT scans) and laboratory tests, from finger-stick blood tests to bone marrow biopsies. The second section deals with testing as it relates to specific organs, organ systems or diseases, or to groups of people, such as children or women.

The authors explain how particular systems work, what happens when they don't work right, what doctors look for, and how they go about looking. They include short case histories, describe common disorders, and list signs and symptoms that indicate problems.

Tests are presented in a logical sequence, from the simplest to the most complicated, Dr. Zaret notes. Newer tests–often, more specific or less invasive than older ones–are regularly pointed out. Charts supply basic information, such as where the test is done, how long it takes, what equipment is used, what discomfort or pain may occur, what risks or complications may be involved, and the average cost (lower than $100, $100 to 500, or more than $500).

"The book is very comprehensive," says Dr. Zaret, "and it's designed to be exquisitely reader-friendly."