[PW] Adage: It is more important to know what sort of a patient has a disease than what disease a patient has

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at gmail.com
Sat Jul 20 13:29:51 PDT 2019

Multiple requests to examine the saying in the subject line have been
sent to me over the years. It is often ascribed to William Osler, one
of the creators of Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

The results of my searches have been unsatisfactory. The saying is
sometimes ascribed to individuals who died in the 1800s, but the
earliest match I've found appeared in 1902. The latest request was
from an Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard who had conducted
his own exploration of the topic. So I decided to share my findings.
Here is the 1902 version:

[Begin excerpt]
. . . as Moxen, wittily remarked, "It is quite as important to know
what kind of a patient the disease has got, as to know what kind of a
disease the patient has got."
[End excerpt]

"Moxen" probably refers to Walter Moxon who died in 1886. Here is a
link to the QI article.


Feedback welcome
Garson O'Toole

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