Beyond 'doctor and patient': developments in the study of healthcare interactions

Sociol Health Illn. 2009 Sep;31(6):787-802. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9566.2009.01194.x.


Three decades of conversation analytic investigations of medical interaction have produced a rich collection of findings of sociological interest, from a diverse array of encounters. This paper briefly outlines the development of this field to provide a context for the special issue. The paper discusses how studies of doctor-patient interaction have revealed the ways in which participants organise the medical visit to accomplish tasks such as diagnosing and recommending treatment for illness, and how doctors and patients address various interactional issues and dilemmas that arise as they undertake these tasks. It then highlights a growing number of CA studies that explore medical settings and activities beyond the doctor-patient encounter. In doing so, it charts the distinctive interactional practices that emerge, for example, where participants are engaging in hands-on treatment, medical practitioners are interacting with one another, or various technologies are employed during the encounter. Finally, papers in this special issue are introduced and shown to build upon this latter tradition. The papers address distinctive practical problems and institutional dilemmas that arise in healthcare encounters and medical settings beyond dyadic doctor-patient interaction, with a focus on the participants' orientations to policy, their distinctive modes of participation, and the use of technology.

MeSH terms

  • Communication*
  • Education, Medical / methods*
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Patient Participation
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Research Design