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November 20, 1967

What Is a Diagnosis?

Author Affiliations

From the Scientific Publications Division, American Medical Association, Chicago.

JAMA. 1967;202(8):714-717. doi:10.1001/jama.1967.03130210088015

The medical student spends much of his curriculum learning how to make a diagnosis. The practicing physician devotes a major part of his efforts to actually making them. Newer techniques try to automate the process. Writers of medical texts and periodical literature employ the term profusely. But with rare exceptions, no one discusses what diagnosis really is or does.

Diagnosis as Process  In the popular mind the term diagnosis brings up the image of a white-coated physician who at one time dangled a stethoscope but who now is more likely to utilize complex sophisticated apparatus and to study laboratory reports. Yet, although diagnosis ordinarily has medical connotations, this is not essential, for the term involves activities by no means unique to medicine. Although we may think of diagnosis as the identification of disease, such usage is far too narrow. The word means to distinguish. It involves the process of deliberate