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

Donna Halper dlh at donnahalper.com
Sun Jul 21 22:51:18 PDT 2019

This may be a case of beating the proverbial dead horse, but having come 
to the conclusion that Dr. Woods Hutchinson (who was quoted in _a lot_ 
of magazines & newspapers of his day) helped to popularize the Moxon 
quote, I wanted to see if I'd missed anyone else.  Continuing with my 
searches, I noted there are various versions of the quote, in addition 
to various people who were using it:  For example, in the 1906 /New York 
State Journal of Medicine/ (vol. 6, p. 122), Dr. John H. Pryor 
references Moxon but his version of the quote says "At this time the 
observation of Moxon seems pertinent:  it is quite as important to know 
what kind of a patient the disease has got as to know what sort of a 
disease the patient has got."  And in 1909, writing in /The Medical 
Summary/ (page 48) Dr. J.L DeWolfe says it like this:  "Moxon, the 
pathologist, says wisely: "It is very important to know what kind of 
disease the patient has got, but it is even more important to know what 
kind of patient the disease has got."   My favorite version is the 
return of Dr. John H. Pryor in the 1912 /New York Medical Journal/, p. 
583, in which he acknowledges that (a) he's paraphrasing the quote, and 
(b) he says it's attributed to Moxon, perhaps hinting that nobody knows 
if Moxon really said it:  "Inability to find the exact words of a 
quotation attributed to Moxon obliges a reference from memory: “It is 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.”   There's also a 1909 
paraphrase, with no mention of Moxon, in the /Journal of Nervous and 
Mental Disease/ (p. 737), and also in the /Journal of the American 
Medical Association/ that same year (p. 317).  Both credit a Dr. Putnam. 
   "Dr. J. W. Putnam, Buffalo N.Y., said: It has always seemed to me 
that the great desire to find what kind of disease the patient has may 
be carried to an extreme, and the tendency should also be to find out 
what kind of a patient is controlled by the disease."

And as you noted on Quote Investigator page, there are numerous other 
times when this maxim was quoted around period from 1900-1912. I've 
found it in the 1907 /Therapeutic Gazette /(p. 247), a 1905 book by 
Francis Washington Everard Hare (p. 392), and numerous others-- in all 
cases, Moxon's first name is never mentioned, nor is there a time frame 
of when he said it, other than a couple of authors who say "many years 
ago" or "a long time ago."  I also find other permutations of the same 
thought-- like "treat the individual and not the disease" (or "treat the 
patient and not the disease") around the same time period. It's also 
interesting how the quote is frequently used during the early 1910s, and 
then it seems to recede, only to return in modern times (sometimes 
attributed, but usually not).  Not sure what any of this proves, but I 
thought you might find some of it interesting!

Donna L. Halper, PhD
Associate Professor of Communication & Media Studies
Lesley University, Cambridge MA

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