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Analogies in medicine

BMJ 2003; 326 doi: (Published 11 January 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;326:111
  1. James D R Rose, consultant physician (
  1. The Ayr Hospital, Ayr

    A nurse once told me that my patient would need a PhD in analogy to understand the explanation that I had given. She probably had a point; I have been known to overdo it, but analogies do have their uses. They can explain, mislead, and provide illuminating insights.

    Organisations have long been likened to organisms and can be seen as having disease

    Comparing heart failure from fast atrial fibrillation to the inefficiency of an over-revved engine helps patients with a mechanical background to understand what has gone wrong, as do many other mechanical analogies involving pumps, valves, and pipework of various sorts. However, one sometimes feels that there was more fun derived in developing the analogy than information actually imparted. Try working backwards from what patients say they were told to what the doctor actually said originally.

    Analogies can also be subversive. You can derail any seminar threatening to uncover the true depths of your ignorance with a well timed obscure statement such as “So, the …

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