Initiating decision-making in neurology consultations: 'recommending' versus 'option-listing' and the implications for medical authority

Merran Gurney Toerien, Rebecca Shaw, Markus Reuber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper compares two practices for initiating treatment decision-making, evident in audio-recorded consultations between a neurologist and thirteen patients in two hospital clinics in the UK. We call these ‘recommending’ and ‘option-listing’. The former entails making a proposal to do x; the latter entails the construction of a list of options. Using conversation analysis (CA), we illustrate each, showing that the distinction between the two matters to participants. Our analysis centres on two distinctions between the practices: epistemic differences; and differences in the slots each creates for the patient’s response. Considering the implications of our findings for understanding medical authority, we argue that option-listing – relative to recommending – is a practice whereby clinicians work to relinquish a little of their authority. This paper contributes, then, to a growing body of CA work which offers a more nuanced, tempered account of medical authority than is typically portrayed in the sociological literature. We argue that future CA studies should map out the range of ways – in addition to recommending – in which treatment decision-making is initiated by clinicians. This will allow for further evidence-based contributions to debates on the related concepts of patient participation, choice, shared decision-making and medical authority.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)873-890
Number of pages18
JournalSociology of health & illness
Issue number6
Early online date2 Apr 2013
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2013

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