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Article

The medical encounter is one of the most important channels of communication between the patient and his or her caretaker. Apart from its therapeutic effect, the medical encounter serves to convey information about a symptom or disease; construct a diagnosis and give information about the expected course of a disease (“prognosis”); and discuss treatment plans, including risks and benefits. The centrality of the medical encounter makes ethical considerations fundamental, not only within the clinical context but also within the broader context of health promotion. Furthermore, since the medical encounter is characterized by asymmetry and dependence, it can create problems of abuse of power or subordination. The current dominant liberal bioethical approach tends not to take into account the power relations within the medical encounter, or the social context in which the medical encounter takes place. It is in this sense that a republican egalitarian approach to bioethics can be of use. Instead of traditional bioethics emphasis on the individual and on personal autonomy, a radical egalitarian health rights approach will stress the importance of social structures, and the need for a different institutional framework that works toward making a universal right to health possible. Such an approach also emphasizes the centrality of politics in building adequate institutions and in modifying those social structures that cause inequities in health. These considerations have important consequences on how the medical encounter should be constructed, such as in the case of conveying risk and disclosing medical errors.

Article

Wayne A. Beach, Kyle Gutzmer, and Chelsea Chapman

Beginning with phone calls to an emergency psychiatric hospital and suicide prevention center, the roots of Conversation Analysis (CA) are embedded in systematic analyses of routine problems occurring between ordinary persons facing troubling health challenges, care providers, and the institutions they represent. After more than 50 years of research, CA is now a vibrant and robust mode of scientific investigation that includes close examination of a wide array of medical encounters between patients and their providers. Considerable efforts have been made to overview CA and medicine as a rapidly expanding mode of inquiry and field of research. Across a span of 18 years, we sample from 10 of these efforts to synthesize important priorities and findings emanating from CA investigations of diverse interactional practices and health care institutions. Key topics and issues are raised that provide a unique opportunity to identify and track the development and maturity of CA approaches to medical encounters. Attention is also given to promising new modes of research, and to the potential and challenges of improving medical practices by translating basic and rigorous empirical findings into innovative interventions for medical education. A case is made that increasing reliance on CA research can positively impact training and policies shaping the delivery of humane and quality medical care.