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“Dr. Google” and his predecessors

Annemarie Jutel
  • Corresponding author
  • Victoria University of Wellington – Graduate School of Nursing, Midwifery and Health, PO Box 7625, Wellington 6242, New Zealand
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Published Online: 2017-04-13 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/dx-2016-0045



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.

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


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About the article

Received: 2016-12-05

Accepted: 2017-03-01

Published Online: 2017-04-13

Published in Print: 2017-06-27

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

Research funding: None declared.

Employment or leadership: None declared.

Honorarium: None declared.

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.

Citation Information: Diagnosis, Volume 4, Issue 2, Pages 87–91, ISSN (Online) 2194-802X, ISSN (Print) 2194-8011, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/dx-2016-0045.

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