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September 1965

The Interesting Patient Syndrome

Author Affiliations


From the Department of Medicine, Memorial Hospital for Cancer and Allied Diseases. Senior Assistant Resident in Medicine.

Arch Intern Med. 1965;116(3):442-443. doi:10.1001/archinte.1965.03870030122021

WITH the arrival of scientific medicine has come an untiring curiosity for the unusual pathological phenomenon. No longer content with common diseases, medical literature is burgeoned with the atypia from clinical practice. During 1964 less than one third of the articles in three widely read medical journals * dealt with myocardial infarctions, strokes, cancer, diabetes, accidents, suicides, or psychoses—illnesses which comprise the bulk of human morbidity and mortality.

Medical interest is instead devoted to the mystifying, the curious, and the unique. Patients who fall into this category receive adulating care from eager medical students and departmental chiefs. They are continuously examined, reexamined, discussed at conferences, and subjected to endless laboratory and surgical procedures. As a result these patients evolve into a medical phenomenon of their own called the "interesting patient syndrome."

The illnesses of interesting patients fall into three categories: rare disease, pseudodisease, and atypical ordinary disease.

Rare diseases, which in