Opening up the 'black box' of the electronic patient record: a linguistic ethnographic study in general practice

Commun Med. 2011;8(1):3-15. doi: 10.1558/cam.v8i1.3.


One of the most pervasive changes in general practice is the introduction of the electronic patient record (EPR). The EPR supports both immediate clinical and anticipatory care (e.g. management of risk factors). Incorporating the EPR into social interaction is a complex task which is achieved discursively, clinician and patient responding to interactional contingencies as the consultation unfolds. Clinicians are presented with a 'dilemma of attention' as they seek to deal with the immediacy ('here and now') of the interpersonal interaction and the institutional demands ('there and then') of the EPR. We present data analysis which illuminates the EPR as an important presence in the clinic consultation context, one which places material and textual demands. Developing previous work on the triadic (three party) consultation, our novel multimodal analysis of the EPR-in-use suggests there is value in considering the EPR as a collection of silent but consequential voices. Micro-analytic attention to the way in which these different voices are managed, combined with understandings drawn from ethnographic observation of the primary care context, reveals the EPR as exhibiting a previously under-explored kind of 'agency' within the consultation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anthropology, Cultural
  • Communication*
  • Female
  • General Practice / methods*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medical Records Systems, Computerized*
  • Professional-Patient Relations*
  • Videotape Recording