Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Labels arrest thought. (Diagnosing prevents curing.)

Labels, stereotypes, abbreviations, shorthands, and heuristics are bad trade-offs. They speed communication and muddy it at the same time. Worse, once we apply the label, we stop thinking.

Labeling is used so often because it is so efficient.

Labeling is a particularly dangerous behavior in health care, and yet it is considered proper and necessary behavior. In health care, labeling or stereotyping is called making a diagnosis.

Making a diagnosis implies to both providers and patients that problem is understood. Consider some common diagnoses (or labels) that you see in TV advertisements by pharmaceutical companies selling drugs directly to consumers or by lawyers recruiting clients for class action suits.
Fibromyalgia (= pain in joints and muscles. The mechanism of disease is a mystery.)
Mesothelioma (= cancer of the lining of the lungs, often follows exposure to asbestos. How does the asbestos produce the tumor? Your guess is as good as mine.)
Erectile dysfunction (The "what" is obvious. The "why" is unknown.)

Norman DeLisle, MDRC
"With Liberty and Access for All!"
GrandCentral: 517-589-4081
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