Old Wives' Tales
Radio & TV
Toxin du jour
Claim: Inventor Thomas Edison said: "The doctor of the future will give no medicine but will interest his patients in the care of the human frame, in diet and in the cause and prevention of disease."
Although the HMO concept was not widely put into practice until the 1970s, prepaid health plans existed (on a small scale) before the beginning of the
The day is near at hand when the doctor will no longer be engaged to patch up the sick man, but to prevent him from getting sick. He will visit families, examine the premises, inspect factories and shops, and give instruction to his patients how to keep from getting sick. Each family will select its doctor and pay him so much a year per capita. The doctors will not lose by the arrangement, either.Recent years have seen increased interest in alternatives to "traditional" medicine, such as holistic medicine, a system that focuses on areas such as personal accountability for one's health, the human body's ability to heal itself, and balancing the body, mind, and spirit with the environment, and that encompasses practices such as acupuncture, biofeedback, faith healing, folk medicine, meditation, megavitamin therapy, and yoga. Many people don't accept the efficacy of alternative forms of medicine, though, so having a famous and respected scientific commentator seemingly anticipate the rise of holistic medicine helps to lend credibility to that field, hence the popularity of the above-cited quote regarding the nature of the "doctor of the future" which is commonly attributed to Thomas Edison.
Indeed, this quote has been widely reproduced and distributed by chiropractors for many years, as evidenced by this 1964 newspaper advertisement:
But did Edison really say it? Beyond the invocation of his name, the "doctor of the future" statement appears unaccompanied by any other details, such as when, where, and in what context Thomas Edison supposedly spoke these words. In the 1989 book They Never Said It, the authors noted that no one had yet been able to trace the quote back to Edison himself:
The doctor-of-the-future statement is popular with American chiropracters [sic]. It appears on their stationery and in frames on the walls of their offices. But it appears nowhere in the writings of the great American inventor. Neither the Palmer Chiropractic College archivist in Davenport, Iowa, not researchers at the Edison Historical Society could locate it. In the early 1980s the American Chiropractic Association offered a small reward to anyone who could provide the source in Edison's writings, but to date there have been no takers.We decided to undertake the challenge, and we opted to start by trying to determine how long ago this statement first came to be attributed to Edison. (If we found the earliest references to this statement didn't start to appear in print until well after Edison's death, that would be a pretty good indicator the words were a false, post-mortem attribution rather than something Edison actually said.) The oldest reproduction of this quote we initially found that credited it to Thomas Edison appeared in another newspaper advertisement placed by a chiropractor, this one from 1920:
We gleaned two important leads from this advertisement:
"Nineteen hundred and three will bring great advances in surgery, in the study of bacteria, in the knowledge of the cause and prevention of disease. Medicine is played out. Every new discovery of bacteria shows us all the more convincingly that we have been wrong and that the million tons of stuff we have taken was all useless.The bolded passage is rendered slightly differently in various newspaper accounts (e.g., "The doctor of the future — there will always be doctors — will instruct his patient how to care for the human frame and how to diet himself instead of giving him medicine"), perhaps due to the vagaries of transcribing from an oral statement (or from memory), but it's clear that the statement in question (or something very much like it) was widely reported as something Thomas Edison himself said in late 1902.
"The doctor of the future will give no medicine, but will instruct his patient in the care of the human frame, in diet and in the cause and prevention of disease.
"They may even discover the germ of old age. I don't predict it, but it might be by the sacrifice of animal life human life could be prolonged.
"Surgery, diet, antiseptics — these three are the vital things of the future in preserving the health of humanity. There were never so many able, active minds at work on the problems of diseases as now, and all their discoveries are tending to the simple truth — that you can't improve on nature."
Last updated: 17 April 2006
This material may not be reproduced without permission.
snopes and the snopes.com logo are registered service marks of snopes.com.