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Diagnosis (Berl). 2017 Jun 27;4(2):87-91. doi: 10.1515/dx-2016-0045.

"Dr. Google" and his predecessors.

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Victoria University of Wellington - Graduate School of Nursing, Midwifery and Health, PO Box 7625, Wellington 6242, New Zealand.



Contemporary medicine has expressed concern about lay incursions into the diagnostic process buttressed by commonly available medical information on line. Even while the world wide web is a new structure, there is a long historical precedent for this concern. With the emergence of scientific medicine in the late 19th century came a strong belief in the role of diagnosis, not only to explain disease symptoms but also to differentiate the physician from a range of other unreliable practitioners. Along with this focus on diagnosis came also a concern expressed by doctors about patients' inclination to self-diagnose, or to propose candidate diagnoses for the problems that ailed them.


This paper uses Zerubavel's social patterning method. Using material written by doctors from the late 19th until the mid-20th century, I explore comments about, and attitudes towards, self-diagnosis.


Three areas of concern about self-diagnosis are expressed by doctors. First, self-diagnosis produces anxiety in the patient. Second, it interferes with doctor-patient relationship. Finally self-diagnosis is commonly linked to commercial interests.


Contemporary concerns about self-diagnosis are part of an ongoing social pattern, which simultaneously promotes diagnosis as means for explaining disease but also protests when the diagnostic explanations originate with the patient.


Google; cyberchondria; history of medicine; self-diagnosis; sociology of diagnosis

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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