Medicine: Physician, Inform Thyself

With better data, doctors learn what works -- and what doesn't

Two 50-year-old men complaining of chest pains and shortness of breath head for their doctors' offices. In both cases, angiograms show that the patients are suffering from partly blocked arteries. But at this point the medical paths of these men, with identical symptoms but different doctors, may diverge radically. One man lives in Beverly Hills, and the chances that he will have coronary-bypass surgery are nearly twice as high as they are for the other man, who lives in Pasadena, just 20 miles away. The Pasadena patient is more likely to be treated with drugs and a modified diet.

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