Patients as Partners, Patients as Problem-Solvers


This article reports our ongoing work in developing a model of health care communication called collaborative interpretation, which we define as a rhetorical practice that generates building blocks for a more complete and coherent diagnostic story and for a collaborative treatment plan. It does this by situating patients as problem-solvers. Our study begins with an analysis of provider-patient interactions in a specific setting - the emergency department (ED) of an urban trauma-level hospital - where we observed patients and providers miscommunicating in at least 3 distinct areas: over the meaning of key terms, in the framing of the immediate problem, and over the perceived role of the ED in serving the individual and the community. From our observations we argue that all of these miscommunications and missed opportunities are rooted in mismatched expectations on the part of both provider and patient and the lack of explicit comparison and negotiation of expectations - in other words, a failure to see the patient-provider interaction as a rhetorical, knowledge-building event. In the process of observing interactions, conversing with patients and providers, and working with a team of providers and patients, we have developed an operational model of communication that could narrow the gap between the lay public and the medical profession - a gap that is especially critical in intercultural settings like the one we have studied. This model of collaborative interpretation (CI) provides strategies to help patients to represent their medical problems in the context of their life experiences and to share the logic behind their health care decisions. In addition, CI helps both patient and provider identify their goals and expectations in treatment, the obstacles that each party perceives, and the available options. It is adaptable to various settings, including short, structured conversations in the emergency room, extended dialogue between a health educator and a patient in a clinical setting, and group discussions in support groups, community groups, or health education classrooms.

Publication Title

Health Communication