Patient-centred communication in Ask-the-expert healthcare websites

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The study presented in this article explores to what extent and in what ways the communication between clinicians and patients on Ask-the-Expert healthcare websites is patient-centred. It further demonstrates the value of using a theory- and text-driven discourse analytical approach for the analysis of verbal communication in a (specific health) professional domain. The UK website Netdoctor is used as a case study. Thirty exchanges from this site, on the topic of depression, were analysed using a discourse-pragmatic framework, drawing on existing theories and definitions of patient-centred communication (PCC), a classification of empathic communication acts (Pounds 2011) and existing research on advice-giving in online communication. The analysis shows that, overall, experts make wide use of PCC, particularly empathic expression, in their online responses. The author concludes that there is a high potential for the expression of PCC on Ask-the-Expert health sites and that this may be more or less exploited, depending on the restrictions imposed on the contributors by the site managers and users’ expectations
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)117–134
Number of pages18
JournalApplied Linguistics
Issue number2
Early online date11 Jan 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2018


  • patient-centred communication
  • empathy
  • advice
  • Ask-the-Expert healthcare websites
  • online medical consultation
  • depression

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