Background: The available literature on medical communication reports almost exclusively on observational, qualitative studies. We aimed to apply a novel approach to the analysis of doctor-patient consultation by means of computer concordancing. This methodology, established in linguistic research but rarely applied to professional language, allows both the quantitative and qualitative study of language.
Methods: We analysed the language of 40 doctors and their patients during 373 complete primary-care consultations. We examined the use of jargon by doctors, the language of power and absence of power, and ways in which language was used to diminish the potential threat of the presenting disorder.
Findings: There was no evidence that the doctors used medical jargon. Some doctors used language associated with social power, and some patients used language associated with absence of power. There was substantial evidence that the doctors used language to express emotions (eg, anxiety), to diminish threats (eg, words such as "little"), and to reassure patients.
Interpretation: Concordancing is a valuable resource to study the consultation. The finding that doctors do not use jargon suggests that they are aware of the need to avoid it, but it does not follow that they are easily understood by patients. The use of some elements of the language of power may imply that consultations may be less democratic than is appropriate. The language of emotion and diminution is a major part of the primary-care doctor's repertoire and denotes a therapeutic use of language.