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March 18, 1998

Modern Medicine and Chaos Theory

Author Affiliations

Margaret A.WinkerMD, Senior EditorIndividualAuthorPhil B.FontanarosaMD, Senior EditorIndividualAuthor

JAMA. 1998;279(11):835-836. doi:10-1001/pubs.JAMA-ISSN-0098-7484-279-11-jac80001

To the Editor.—Although it is difficult to argue with reminding physicians of their essential duties of "listening, witnessing, and relieving suffering" when caring for their patients, I have major reservations concerning Dr Goodwin's1 use of chaos theory as an important means to achieve these goals.

First, chaos theory is still a theory, and as such its major value lies in helping those physicians who are so inclined cope with their inability to understand why certain things happen the way they do. Unfortunately, a major limitation of the application of this theory to the practice of medicine is the inability to distinguish problems that are potentially solvable from those that may not be because of their chaotic nature. Without appropriate tools to help determine when the use of chaos theory is appropriate, the practical application of this theory to the everyday practice of medicine is problematic if not impossible.