The (gendered) construction of diagnosis interpretation of medical signs in women patients

Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics 20 (3):275-286 (1999)
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Medicine maintains a distinction between the medical symptom -- the patient''ssubjective experience and expression, and the privileged medical sign -- the objective findings observable by the doctor. Although the distinction is not consistently applied, it becomes clearly visible in the undefined, medically unexplained disorders of women patients. Potential impacts of genderized interaction on the interpretation of medical signs are addressed by re-reading the diagnostic process as a matter of social construction, where diagnosis results from human interpretation within a sociopolitical context. The discussion is illustrated by a case story and empirical evidence of the gendering in the doctor-patient relationship. The theoretical analysis is supported by semiotic perspectives of bodily signs, feminist theory on experience, and Foucault''sideas about medical perception and gaze, and concludes that a medical diagnosis is seldom a biological fact, but the outcome of a process where biological, cultural and social elements are interwoven. Further deconstruction of the chain of signs from a feminist perspective, assigning validity to the voice of the woman patient, might broaden the understanding of women''shealth, illness and disease.



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