2 Feb 2016

The power of diagnosis

From Nine To Noon, 9:25 am on 2 February 2016
Sentence of Death

A physician telling a patient that he is going to die. By: John Collier Photo: Credit: Wellcome Library, London

Diagnosis is one of medicine's principle tools. It explains what's going on, gives treatment options, provides a prognosis, and much more. 

It also has its limitations and is messier than what most people imagine. It can stigmatise, over-simplify and even medicalise a normal life experience. What 'counts' as an illness or a disease can depend on context, political and commercial will, and on what matters in society. What doesn't fit can bring particular aspects of suffering to the fore while leaving others in the background. Delivering a diagnosis can de-stabilise a person's sense of themselves and future potential, often as powerfully as the ailment itself.

Kathryn Ryan looks at the history, power and limitations of diagnosis with Annemarie Jutel and Bronwyn Thompson:

Annemarie Jutel is the author of Putting a Name to it, Diagnosis in Contemporary Society and Professor at Victoria University's Graduate School of Nursing, Midwifery and Health who, after training and working as a nurse, left clinical practice to study the sociological aspects of health and illness. She's just published a special issue journal on the topic, in Perspectives in Biology and Medicine. There is also a Diagnosis in Contemporary Society Facebook page.

Bronwyn Thompson is a Senior Lecturer at the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery & Musculoskeletal Medicine at the University of Otago, Christchurch. She is also a Chronic Pain sufferer. She remembers her experience of getting a diagnosis 30 years ago.