NONFICTION : MEDICAL ACCESS by Richard Saul Wurman, co-sponsored by American Medical International (Access: $9.95, paperback, 120 pages, illustrated).

"Medical Access" is a comprehensive and colorful, if sometimes confusing and inaccurate mini-encyclopedia styled like its author's popular city-Access guidebooks for tourists. It describes 120 diagnostic medical tests and 32 surgical procedures, and lists 74 Q and A's (questions and answers) for the health consumer.

The book is designed to lend confidence to the assertive patient on trips to the doctor's office, lab or hospital, in order to facilitate asking intelligent questions and participating in informed decisions about health care. It addresses valid needs, its tone is sympathetic, helpful and sparked by humor, the topics are of concern to a wide potential audience.

However, the text is sometimes too condensed to make sense, the graphic symbols and color codes are inconsistently used, and typographical, grammatical and factual errors detract from the book's credibility as a useful tool.

Mistakes range from mislabled diagrams (chlorsalis pedis instead of dorsalis pedis artery) to simplistic observations (after drawing blood, "the needle is removed and a cotton ball put on the site of the needle prick;" the point is that pressure, with or without using a cotton ball, is applied to the site) to outrageous misstatements (in laparoscopy, "carbon monoxide gas is passed through the needle to inflate the abdomen." Carbon dioxide, yes; carbon monoxide, never!)

With some judicious editing, this handbook for the health consumer could serve a useful purpose. As it stands, it would be a treacherous crutch on which to lean for security in the foreign environment of the medical world.

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