IOE - Faculty of Education and Society


Book exploring the critical role of communication in healthcare published

23 April 2020

A new book examining the crucial role of communication in healthcare and illness has been published.

Medical staff talking to a patient on a stretcher

Edited by UCL Institute of Education (IOE) academic Dr Zsófia Demjén, 'Applying Linguistics in Illness and Healthcare Contexts' covers how language is used in public health communications, medical consultations, research interviews and people’s experiences of illness, death and healthcare.

The work analyses how people talk to, about and for each other in these sensitive contexts and looks at the consequences this has upon people’s relationships, their sense of self, and how they understand and reason about health.

Among the many different exchanges that take place in healthcare settings, the book covers clinician-patient interactions, public health communication, media representations, diagnostic tools and definitions, and online counselling, among others.

Analysis of conversations, the use of metaphors, multiculturalism research and interactional sociolinguistics are employed by researchers within the book’s different chapters.

The volume demonstrates how linguistic analysis can not only improve understandings of the lived-experience of different illnesses, but also has implications for communications training, disease prevention, treatment and self-management, the effectiveness of public health messaging, and access to appropriate care.

Dr Demjén said: “Although the collection was put together before we had any inkling of the current pandemic, the general argument uniting all the chapters – that language choice matters and can make a material difference in healthcare contexts – has never been more relevant. 

“COVID-19 has made us question and adjust how and when we access healthcare, how we capture and communicate the effects on our mental and physical health, what our healthcare priorities are, what we wish to happen at the end of our lives, and how we can make sense of people’s stories and experiences. These are some of the same themes covered across the different chapters in this collection. 

“Two specific examples can be found in debates over the last few weeks about how we should and should not talk about the pandemic in the mass media: Are so-called War metaphors appropriate in the context of COVID-19? How can we talk about COVID-19 in a way that encourages the right kind of public response or behaviour? These kinds of questions lie at the heart of Chapter 8, which looks at War metaphors and stigma, and Chapter 9, which looks at effective risk communication, of the collection.”