Remembering the Real Questions

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Abstract

When people are sick, or think they are, they seek answers to three fundamental questions:"What's happening to me?", which comes from the need to explain the present; "What's going to happen to me?", which comes from the need to predict the future; and "What can be done to improve what happens to me?", which comes from the need to create a better future than would otherwise occur. In modern times, physicians have been the preeminent providers of answers to these questions, but it is important to recognize that the medical profession does not have an uncontested monopoly on satisfying this basic need. Faced with a raging medical marketplace, many physicians believe that medicine's central position is being undermined and that our ethical heritage is being replaced by a mercantile philosophy. Indeed, other health professionals seem eager to position themselves to fill the void created by medicine's perceived shortcomings in addressing this fundamental quest of human nature. To obviate this unacceptable turn of events, physicians must refocus attention on providing the best answers to those basic questions. Internists, by virtue of their strong tradition of scientific rigor and acknowledged role as the gateway to cutting-edge medicine, are uniquely positioned to do so.

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