Doctor-patient interactions during medical consultations about obesity

Webb, Helena (2009) Doctor-patient interactions during medical consultations about obesity. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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The current “obesity epidemic” is a global concern for governments and healthcare organisations. Obesity is seen as a medical problem of excess body weight which can be resolved through interventions to encourage weight loss, most particularly diet and exercise regimes. Much existing sociological work focuses on moral understandings of obesity as a perceived symbol of individual greed and laziness in a culture that prioritises self-control and effort. This neglects the ways in which the condition is actively discussed and managed in relevant settings such as medical encounters. This thesis addresses this research gap by analysing talk during obesity-related medical consultations. Talk is central to all medical encounters and has particular resonance in treatments for obesity where most interventions are carried out by the patient away from the medical gaze. Patients must report on their treatment behaviours in ways that enable practitioners to evaluate them and offer further relevant advice. Talk is not only a means through which treatment is delivered but a form of treatment itself.

Fieldwork took place in two UK NHS outpatient clinics specialising in weight loss treatment for obese patients. A sample of 18 patients and 1 doctor consented to have their consultations video-recorded over a period of 9 months. This resulted in 39 recorded interactions which were analysed according to the principles of Conversation Analysis (CA) to identify recurring patterns of interaction. The thesis describes how talk between doctor and patient functions to achieve certain tasks. In particular, it analyses how the specific institutional setting shapes and is shaped by talk. A dominant theme is that clinic interactions frequently invoke normative issues concerning knowledge, responsibility and effort. These issues are consistent with moral dynamics perceived to surround the condition of obesity and patient responsibilities. Doctor and patient collaboratively construct obesity as a moral issue. This has consequences for the conduct of the consultation. The findings extend existing CA knowledge on medical interactions and demonstrate the utility of an interactional approach to the sociological study of obesity. They also have relevance to healthcare policy and practice.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Dingwall, R.W.J.
Pilnick, A.
Parry, R.
Subjects: R Medicine > R Medicine (General)
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Social Sciences, Law and Education > Institute for Science and Society
Item ID: 10818
Depositing User: EP, Services
Date Deposited: 16 Dec 2009 09:48
Last Modified: 06 Jun 2018 16:50

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