Five years ago, I read an old French book, “Docteur, pour la première fois, nous avons parlé le même langage” dit Christina (“Doctor, for the first time, we spoke the same language”, Christina said).
The book tells a true story of a female in-patient, Christina, in a hospital ward in France, describing dialogues with her doctor. She was a journalist. The book title comes from what Christina said to her doctor one year after they started talking. The title is very symbolic of the asymmetric relationship between a patient and a doctor in a hospital. As the doctor spent time with Christina, his perspectives slowly transformed from biomedical into psychosocial views. He noticed that there was something that a patient could inspire in a doctor.
The book was first published by Hachette in France in 1979, and translated into Japanese in 1985. It’s really a shame that it hasn’t been translated into English.
I am researching the context of patient-doctor interactions. I look at a real-life context of clinical practice, and my view is based on ethnographic fieldwork for understanding and recording what patients and professionals ‘do’ and ‘say’. I analyse them, hoping that the findings can inform patients’ voices and increase awareness. I am always moved when observing their interactions and listening to their stories. Everybody has a story.
Doctors may conduct research on the same topic. Many doctors who were my research participants were also researching topics on patient-doctor communication. Their views are situated within medicine, sometimes employing conversation analysis, and they often contextualise the data into their medical perspectives. Researchers always go back and forth between the ‘language in practice’, the ‘researcher’s personal view’ and ‘academic words in the field situated’. After the journey, in the end, I return to linguistic terminologies. If I had got stuck only in any of them (linguistic or personal or medical views), relying on only one view, my research would fail as a qualitative study. Contextualising is always a crucial part of researching healthcare.
Cross-disciplinary dialogue across boundaries
Over the last few years, the field has evolved in mixed methods for various kinds of contexts, ranging from health discourses of individuals (patients’ talks, adherence to treatment, health literacy, online support groups) to professionals’ practices (institutional talks, inter-professional communication, communication skills training, clinical reports, nursing care), and patient-provider interactions (diagnosis, negotiations, ethics).
It is not only applied linguistics that has shed new light on these issues but also health communication that has contributed to cross-disciplinary dialogue across our boundaries, just like the conversation between Christina and her doctor. This is what I have seen through research.
Here are my dreams.
Research in the field can do the following:
- serve as material to facilitate learning for all health professionals and non-professionals
- teach how to research interactions so that professionals can learn how to interpret data, which will help them to apply it to their own practice sooner
- increase public awareness on issues that they didn’t even know existed
- reveal mystery and truth in healthcare practice
- benefit healthcare services with greater success
- contribute to the technological advancement of online medical services
For reference, I always turn to the pages of three major handbooks. These are the most comprehensive books on the area.
- The Routledge Handbook of Language and Health Communication (Routledge, 2014)
- The SAGE Handbook of Qualitative Methods in Health Research (SAGE, 2010)
- Communication in Medical Care – Interaction between primary care physicians and patients (Cambridge University Press, 2006)