Thursday, June 19, 2014

Review: The Art of Medicine Healing and the Limits of Technology by Herbert Ho Ping Kong

In The Art of Medicine, Toronto Western Hospital’s legendary internist Dr. Herbert Ho Ping Kong draws on his vast dossier of personal cases and five decades as a clinician, to examine the core principles of a patient-centred approach to diagnosis and treatment. While HPK, as he is fondly known, recognizes and applauds the many invaluable innovations in medical technology, as disease and its management grow increasingly complex, he insists that physicians must learn to develop an arsenal of more basic skills, actively using the arts of seeing, hearing, palpation, empathy, and advocacy to provide a more humane and holistic form of care. Aimed at medical practitioners, trainees, aspiring doctors and laymen, the book also contains interviews with more than a dozen of HPK’s patients, as well as short essays that explore the thinking of some 15 of his professional colleagues on the art of medicine.
If you've ever been a patient, then you probably know what a difference a doctor's bedside manner makes.

In The Art of Medicine Healing and the Limits of Technology, Dr. Herbert Ho Ping Kong, discusses the art of medicine, the things that go beyond the clinical nature of medicine. The book contains essays by some doctors who have worked with Dr. Ho Ping Kong, as well as the stories of some of Dr. Ho Ping Kong's patients and how the doctor's approach made a difference for them.

The concepts discussed in this book were not new to me at all. The University of the Philippines College of Medicine has subjects on the Art of Medicine and though it's not really a major subject, it's still an important one. I do know, however, that some doctors have terrible bedside manners or they often forget the human aspect and concentrate instead on the clinical aspects.

Some doctors or medical students may look at the book's summary and cover and think that the book will be boring. I think they'll be pleasantly surprised. There are plenty of anecdotes in the book about patients and how they were diagnosed, and the patients themselves offer their own story so doctors can see both sides.

In several of the stories presented, his colleagues share how they were amazed that Dr. Ho Ping Kong was able to diagnose patients sometimes just by spending a few minutes with them or just by looking at them. With some, it was because he had seen it before and knew from experience what they were, but with some of them, it was all about taking accurate histories and learning their stories.

I skimmed over the essays from the doctors, mainly because I've already heard most of the lessons they had to say, but I did stop whenever they shared a story about a patient.

Dr. Ho Ping Kong sounds like an amazing doctor and person. A few pages into the book, I wrote in my notes "a little holmes-ish and house-ish" and "house but nicer". I've been watching Elementary the past couple of days, so Sherlock Holmes was forefront in my mind. However, I couldn't forget Gregory House, who was based on Sherlock Holmes. Dr. Ho Ping Kong reminded me of the two. Interestingly enough, a few pages later, one of the patients mentioned that a surgeon told him that Dr. Ho Ping Kong was "'Like House - the TV internist,' he said, 'but much nicer'." If anyone could teach the art of medicine well, it sounds like this guy.

Thanks to NetGalley and ECW Press for the e-ARC.


  1. Dr. Ho Ping Kong is an interesting guy.
  2. The patient's stories are fascinating.
  3. The lessons told here are important for any physician or physician-in-training. 


  1. Some parts may feel boring and repetitive if you've studied the Art of Medicine in medical school. 

When you put on the doctor's white coat, you don't leave one self behind and become a new self. 

  1. You like reading about patients and their diagnosis.
  2. You want to learn how to be a better doctor.
  3. You want to learn how to become a 5-star physician. 




Note: This post contains Amazon and Book Depository affiliate links.

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