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A Linguistic Approach for Understanding Pain in the Medical Encounter 

A Linguistic Approach for Understanding Pain in the Medical Encounter
A Linguistic Approach for Understanding Pain in the Medical Encounter

Lise Bouchard

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date: 24 September 2021

Physicians are confronted daily with the task of interpreting their patients’ narration, making pain-related speech a recurrent concern in the medical encounter. Yet, despite the important role of language and culture in the representation of pain, few studies have tackled the topic. In this chapter we examine pain through a linguistic-anthropological lens. We discuss the pain experience, its expression and description across cultures. Using examples from different regions of the world, we illustrate how linguistic factors interfering in doctor-patient communication can lead to problems of interpretation and unfavorable clinical outcomes. Finally, we suggest actions that can be taken in the clinical setting to optimize the understanding of patients’ pain description using basic linguistic tools and in so doing improve the quality of care.

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