Medical heuristics

I have an appointment tomorrow with a surgeon to talk about repairing my torn rotator cuff.  Given that that this is only a week after my two-year mastectomy anniversary, and a week before my one-year liver biopsy anniversary, I find myself in such deep avoidance that I even started sorting old letters!  Luckily, I am not completely unprepared for the appointment, as I wrote an article a while back (on my other blog, now gone) on medical heuristics.  Here is an edited reprint of that article:


What questions do you ask when you’re trying to solve a medical problem? My family has had to deal with so many medical issues in past years that we’re developing a set of questions to guide us through thinking about medical problems.

Here are our general questions:

What is it? What do we know about it?

What is the gold standard of diagnosis? Other tests?

What is it NOT? How to exclude other diagnoses?

How does it work? What are the specific dynamics and pathways by which a problem occurs?

Does it have stages over time? Where do these lead? Is this a precursor for anything else?

Why is it? (How did this happen? How did we get here?)

What can we do about it? How can it be treated? What are the treatment goals?

Which treatments address symptoms? And which treatments undress the underlying problems/dynamics?

What does this mean? (for quality of life, for family and friends, for the pocketbook, etc.)

I understand a heuristic to be a set of questions, a method of discovery as opposed to the definition of heuristic as a rule of thumb. My favorite heuristic is from Byron Katie’s Loving What Is, but more about that another time.


What does heuristic mean? The Heuristic Wiki defines heuristic as “the art and science of discovery. The word heuristic comes from the same Greek root as Eureka! The root means ‘to find.’ Heuristic is the study of ways of steering your attention fruitfully…”

Websters defines heuristic as: “involving or serving as an aid to learning, discovery, or problem-solving by experimental and especially trial-and-error methods ; also: of or relating to exploratory problem-solving techniques that utilize self-educating techniques (as the evaluation of feedback) to improve performance . …

Etymology: German heuristisch, from New Latin heuristicus, from Greek heuriskein to discover; akin to Old Irish fo-fúair he found.”



Filed under breast cancer

2 responses to “Medical heuristics

  1. dphealthcareconsulting

    Great Blog. I added you to my blogroll, Cancer Blog Links at
    Take care, Dennis

  2. drtombibey

    The patients who help the Doc discover are always the best ones, and they increase the odds of good care. Best of of luck to you; you are a tough lady.

    Dr. B

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