August 12, 1974

A Random Patient Consulting a Physician at Random

JAMA. 1974;229(7):785-786. doi:10.1001/jama.1974.03230450019015

OUR ancient and honorable profession has had its dark ages and its renaissances. At times, we lose sight of the relative newness of the discipline as we know it. A statement by Lawrence J. Henderson1 opines that, "Somewhere between 1910 and 1912 in this country, a random patient, with a random disease, consulting a doctor chosen at random had, for the first time in the history of mankind, a better than fifty-fifty chance of profitting from the encounter." Henderson spoke in the modern vein. It seems likely that the ancient Greeks would have found the 50% profit incompatible with their gentle ministrations that did no harm, but it came as gospel in an era of therapeutic activity, with the patient in danger of meeting primitive human behavior disguised as treatment.

To cast an eye backward at what passed as medical treatment is to become appalled. The misfortunes that befell