'Ignorance is bliss sometimes': constraints on the emergence of the 'informed patient' in the changing landscapes of health information

Sociol Health Illn. 2003 Sep;25(6):589-607. doi: 10.1111/1467-9566.00360.


In this paper we describe and analyse results from an empirical study designed to provide insight into factors facilitating and/or inhibiting the emergence of the much-heralded 'informed patient' and its sociological equivalent, the 'reflexive patient' or 'reflexive consumer'. In particular, we seek to examine the relationship between information and empowerment in a healthcare context and assess the significance of the Internet in mediating this relationship. The paper draws on data from interviews with 32 mid-life women concerned to know about HRT for the relief of menopausal symptoms. Having analysed these women's 'information practices', we conclude that constraints on the emergence of the informed patient identity exist within both patient and practitioner communities and within the space occupied by both in the medical encounter. In particular, in this paper we identify a tension caused by the emphasis on 'information for choice' in the informed patient discourse which itself obscures the potential conflict between lay and expert/medical knowledges in the clinical encounter.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • England
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Hormone Replacement Therapy / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Information Services / statistics & numerical data*
  • Internet / statistics & numerical data*
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Mass Media*
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Education as Topic*
  • Patient Participation*
  • Power, Psychological
  • Professional-Patient Relations
  • Sociology, Medical
  • Women's Health*