Credibility at the Clinic: A Qualitative Interview Study of Rhetorical Ethos in Patients’ Conversations With Care Providers When Symptoms Are First Misdiagnosed as “in the Patient’s Head”


This case study shares insight and background from an interview study with a diverse group of men and women who were misdiagnosed—often for years—with symptoms “in their heads” before obtaining accurate diagnoses of the physical diseases they have. Emphasis is on designing qualitative health research in the form of interviews to gather patients’ accounts of their communication strategies with care providers. After describing how participants were recruited via a survey that used the nonprobability method of “snowball sampling,” this case moves to a focus on qualitative data analysis; it argues for the value of using the everyday words of interviewees to explore, define, and clarify their innovative communication practices in clinical settings. While the case explores the challenges of conducting this kind of interdisciplinary research, it concludes with the assertion that when researchers are guided by serendipity, creativity, and strong ethical grounding, they can produce compelling findings from everyday data. The case ultimately argues that health and medical researchers consider qualitative methods for especially complex clinical issues.

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