The Patient

This research and publications project aims to explore the meaning of what it is to be a person when probing the boundaries of humans and health care. The patient occupies a liminal, unstable position, precariously situated between home and hospital, work and bed, life and death.  Although attended by doctors, nurses, family and friends, her condition—particularly if it is chronic—threatens to sever her connections with the world and to exile her into that fundamental solitude owned by the sick and suffering.

Immersed in a medical system that seeks optimum outcomes with zero errors, the patient receives care delivered with industrial efficiency. Advances in diagnostic and therapeutic modalities provide both cure and control of chronic illness not imagined a decade ago. The patient, then, poised to benefit on multiple fronts, should be increasingly satisfied with the medical encounter; yet many patients feel alienated or even violated by the medical system.  Many health care professionals also lament weaknesses in their technology-driven profession.

What defines a quality medical encounter from the patient’s perspective? What do medical practitioners—nurses, physicians, social workers—value in their relationship with the patient?  How is this relationship preserved and nurtured?  What are the opportunities or perils in the physician-patient relationship?
It seems timely to counteract the quantification of the patient by the health care industry and to call for a humanistic reconstitution of the patient’s experience and situation—to reconsider, rethink, and empathically re-imagine the patient in her environments, ancient and contemporary, intimate and social.

Core Themes for Development

Among the themes which the project will seek to explore are;

  • the patient in literary contexts
  • the patient in film
  • the patient in self-help books and pathographies
  • the dying patient
  • the identity of the patient
  • from person to patient
  • the patient and communication
  • the ill and the well
  • the chronic patient
  • the caregiver
  • the quality medical encounter from the perspective of the patient
  • the quality medical encounter from the perspective of the physician
  • biomedical ethics
  • the patient in the history of medicine
  • the patient in medical anthropology and sociology
  • patient empowerment

These are indicative themes; as the project develops, further areas of research will be added for exploration and examination.