In our era of the patient-as-data-point, Abraham Verghese believes in the old-fashioned physical exam, the bedside chat, the power of informed observation.
Before he finished medical school, Abraham Verghese spent a year on the other end of the medical pecking order, as a hospital orderly. Moving unseen through the wards, he saw the patients with new eyes, as human beings rather than collections of illnesses. The experience has informed his work as a doctor -- and as a writer. "Imagining the Patient’s Experience" was the motto of the Center for Medical Humanities & Ethics, which he founded at the University of Texas San Antonio, where he brought a deep-seated empathy. He’s now a professor for the Theory and Practice of Medicine at Stanford, where his old-fashioned weekly rounds have inspired a new initiative, the Stanford 25, teaching 25 fundamental physical exam skills and their diagnostic benefits to interns.
He’s also a best-selling writer, with two memoirs and a novel, Cutting for Stone, a moving story of two Ethiopian brothers bound by medicine and betrayal.
He says: “I still find the best way to understand a hospitalized patient is not by staring at the computer screen but by going to see the patient; it's only at the bedside that I can figure out what is important.”
In 2011, Verghese was elected to the Institute of Medicine, which advises the government and private institutions on medicine and health on a national level.
“I joke, but I only half joke, that if you come to one of our hospitals missing a limb, no one will believe you till they get a CAT scan, MRI or orthopedic consult.”
“No matter what ailed you, you went to see the barber surgeon who wound up cupping you, bleeding you, purging you. And, oh yes, if you wanted, he would give you a haircut and pull your tooth while he was at it.”
“The most important innovation in medicine to come in the next 10 years: the power of the human hand.”
“We know the average American physician interrupts their patient in 14 seconds.”
“We’re losing a ritual. We’re losing a ritual that I believe is transformative, transcendent, and is at the heart of the patient-physician relationship.”— on doctors shortcutting the physical exam