Patient imaging in case reports

Murawska, Magdalena

Adam Mickiewicz University, Poland


Patient imaging in case reports

The present paper addresses the issue of how patients are depicted in medical academic texts aimed at health professionals. It examines the linguistic choices authors make and the effect they produce. The results of the study are discussed with reference to the patient-centred approach to medicine and to some facts concerning the history of medical development which have influenced the visibility of patients in medical literature.

The language medical professionals use in order to document their academic activity has been widely researched in recent years within the area of specialised discourse analysis. Some of these studies address the following two issues: (1) the very art of academic writing in medicine (language); (2) the relation between the form and the content (language vs. subject). On the one hand, it has become a common practice to perceive the language of medical texts as being neutral, economical (Kenny – Beagan 2004: 1072) and “author-evacuated” (Geertz 1988), to a large extent due to the notorious use of the passive voice. This conclusion has led to a claim that such a mode of writing depersonalises patients “separating biological processes from the person” (Anspach 1988: 357). On the other hand, although students of medicine are taught to execute objectivity and personal withdrawal in their practice (Beagan 2000), the writing about methods of enhancing patients’ treatment should still refer to patients as beneficiaries of these methods, not only as those to which these methods apply.

In this research project patient imaging has been examined in academic medical texts. The key issue is the construction of a patient persona, by analogy with other studies in which the authorial persona has been researched (notably the KIAP project 2006). In my study, I have attempted to analyse a corpus of selected case reports in search for references to patients in order to establish the roles they are assigned. Identifying these roles would help to determine patients’ textual status, i.e. whether they function as the subjects or the objects of a medical study. It appears to be an issue of concern in the light of the fact that texts written by the already established members of the profession not only acquaint novices with particular attitudes and values but also promote discipline-specific modes of writing.


Anspach, Renee R. 1988. “Notes on the sociology of medical discourse:

The language of case presentation”, Journal of Health and Social Behaviour 29: 357–75.

Beagan, Brenda L. 2000. “Neutralizing differences: producing neutral doctors for (almost) neutral patients”, Social Science & Medicine 51: 1253-1265.

Geertz, Clifford, 1988. Words and Lives: The Anthropologist as Author. Stanford University Press: Palo Alto, CA.

Kenny, Nuala P. – Brenda L. Beagan. 2004. “The patient as text – a challenge for problem-based learning”, Medical Education 38: 1071-1079.

KIAP – Cultural Identity in Academic Prose: national vs. discipline-specific. 2006. (

Session: POSTERS: Focus on interaction, discourse, media, professional settings
Friday, April 4, 2008, 12:45-15:45
room: foyer