Anyone who has practiced medicine for more than a week, or observed its practice as a medical student may recognize the truth of the following paragraph.
Medical science alone is inadequate to solve the contingencies of the day. Improvising is required.
The rules are riddled with exceptions and the world of caring for patients is a world of exceptions and the rules we devise are to generally point in the right directions at least some of the time.
Norton Hadler wrote of this issue:
"..for the most difficult critical and trying decisions involved in clinical care, the body of scientific information is inadequate,or incomplete or idealized....clinical truth is a contract between a physician and a patient based on trust."
The ambiguity and the inadequacy of medical science to solve every problem is so self evident that it is puzzling the degree to which guidelines and rules are not only promulgated but increasingly used to judge physician's practices and the quality of care given.
Dr. Atul Gawande in his 2004 commencement address at Yale Medical School said:
"...Information is inadequate.The science is ambiguous.One's knowledge and abilities are never perfect.The risks of the unforeseen consequences and terrible mistakes always loom."
Everyone seems to be quoiting Hippocrates one way or another. Life is short,the art long, experience fallacious and judgment difficult.
On an individual level and as applied to the patient it is widely recognized that rules designed to standardize a world that is dominated by exceptions will have limited application at best and at worse frequently send us down the wrong road and generate perverse incentives to treat the chart at the expense of patient care and yet there are increasing efforts and acceptance of the use of rules and guidelines to judge the quality of a physician's practice and perhaps impose monetary consequences based on adherence to guidelines.
One of my medical friends suggested we might have an example of cognitive dissonance.
Maybe so for some physicians, but more to the point is that there are two different visions-the population treatment vision and the individual patient treatment vision.The individual treatment vision is played out by most practicing physicians while those who are proponents of the other vision are unfortunately often those in policy influencing roles, such as in medical schools and IOM and ACP and various of the "non-profits" more than a few of which are funded largely by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.