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May 16, 1980

The Magic of a Name

JAMA. 1980;243(19):1931-1932. doi:10.1001/jama.1980.03300450045024

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In a recent article ("In the End Is the Word." New Scientist 85:37-38, 1980) Colin Tudge tells how important it is for the patient to be told the name of his disease. He contends that, unlike physicians, many patients do not view diagnosis as merely a prelude to treatment. To them, diagnosis may be the most important part of therapy. In fact, many sufferers from a chronic disease are content with a diagnostic label without detailed definition or an explanation of its underlying pathophysiology. The physician's prescription may not be even filled or complied with. According to Tudge, much of the touted noncompliance may be due to the patient's complete satisfaction with the reassurance provided by having his disease named. It is as if the name brings the disturbingly unknown into the realm of the partially known. Perhaps the less therapeutically equipped physician of the 19th century understood this need