The side of diagnosis we don’t talk about

Medical diagnosis is typically viewed as an important part of the process in identifying and curing illnesses, but Victoria University of Wellington's Professor Annemarie Jutel says the experience has a strong social impact that is too often ignored.

Professor Annemarie Jutel

Professor Jutel, from Victoria’s Graduate School of Nursing, Midwifery and Health, discusses her ground breaking research in diagnosis in a free, public lecture next week, which marks her inaugural lecture as a new professor.

“We tend to think about medicine in black and white terms about the process—identifying symptoms, making a diagnosis and prescribing treatment. But this ignores the fact that people are social beings with unique beliefs, values and cultures. If we overlook the social content during diagnosis, we overlook an important component of what’s taking place.

“Diagnosis structures the whole experience of health and illness—determining what counts as ‘normal’, defining who is responsible for which disorders, providing frameworks for communication and structuring relationships.

“Understanding the social aspects of diagnosis can actually help in the clinic, allowing both patient and clinician to have a better understanding of their reactions to, and outcomes of, diagnosis and its implications.”

Professor Jutel’s research draws on her earlier career as a nurse, practicing in France, the United States and New Zealand, followed by over 15 years in research, which included teaching and research support roles at Otago Polytechnic and the University of Otago’s School of Medicine.

In 2010, Professor Jutel took up the position of Associate Professor and Director of Research at Victoria’s Graduate School of Nursing, Midwifery and Health.

In addition to her research in diagnosis, Professor Jutel has also published widely on women in sport, clinical interaction, obesity, evidence-based practice and self-regulation and self-diagnosis.

Vice-Chancellor Professor Grant Guilford says Professor Jutel is a leader in medical sociology.

“Her contribution in this under-researched field is hugely important in advancing our understanding of the social aspects that underlie clinical environments and processes.

“We are all, at some stage, a participant in these medical processes, and so Professor Jutel’s research is revealing and relevant to us all.”