Background: It is clear that much of the success of health-care provision depends on the quality of interactions between health professionals and patients. For instance, it is widely recognized that patients are more likely to take medication effectively if they have been involved in discussions about treatment options, and understand and support the decision about what is prescribed (patient concordance). Hence, patient participation is important for the success of medical outcomes. The key is to explore how communicative choices made by health professionals impact on the quality of interactions in general, and of patient participation in particular. However, to date there has not been an appropriate method for investigating this connection or impact.
Objective: To outline the perspective and method of Conversation Analysis (CA). Developed within sociology and linguistics, CA offers a rigorous method (applicable to large data sets) to the study of interaction in health settings.
Strategy: The method of CA is illustrated through a review of CA studies of doctor-patient interactions. Two such studies, one from the US and the other from Finland, are reviewed, in order to show how CA can be applied to identifying both forms of patient participation, and the interactional conditions which provide opportunities for patient participation. These studies focus principally on the medical examination and diagnostic stages of the consultation. Further research will examine the forms and conditions of patient participation in decision-making.