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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter April 13, 2017

“Dr. Google” and his predecessors

  • Annemarie Jutel EMAIL logo
From the journal Diagnosis



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.

  1. Author contributions: The author has accepted responsibility for the entire content of this submitted manuscript and approved submission.

  2. Research funding: None declared.

  3. Employment or leadership: None declared.

  4. Honorarium: None declared.

  5. Competing interests: The funding organization(s) played no role in the study design; in the collection, analysis, and interpretation of data; in the writing of the report; or in the decision to submit the report for publication.


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Received: 2016-12-5
Accepted: 2017-3-1
Published Online: 2017-4-13
Published in Print: 2017-6-27

©2017 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston

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