Towards a Fourth Cosmology of Doctor-Patient Relationship: A Reflection on the Virtual Patient Community PatientsLikeMe
AbstractThe aim of this paper is the study of an online patient community (Patientslikeme) and, specifically, of the impact of virtuality in the shaping of the patient-doctor relationship. Drawing from Kozinets’s research paradigm, known as ethnography of the Internet (Netnography), we investigate the patients’ attitudes toward the medical profession. Examining relevant data from the ALS forum, we set up three main axes of analysis: (a) the energetic versus passive stance towards doctors, (b) the evidence-based scientific knowledge versus alternative forms of knowledge, and (c) the positive versus negative attitude towards doctors and medical practices. The underlying theoretical hypothesis, i.e. whether the virtual community empowers patients over against the authority of the medical profession, is verified. Other interesting findings involve the value of evidence-based scientific knowledge, the intermediary role of the online community in building the patient-physician relationship, and the development of an alternative discourse towards the dominant medical discourse. All the above suggest that we have entered an era where the control of the patient is being transferred to another (digital) dimension, in which virtual communities play a crucial role.
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