The patient as text: A model of clinical hermeneutics

The art of interpretation has traditionally been an integral part of medical practice, but little attention has been devoted to its theory. Hermeneutics or the study of interpretation has grown as a methodological interest primarily within the humanities. Borrowing from the medieval fourfold sense of scripture, which organizes interpretive activity both logically and comprehensively, I propose a hermeneutical model of clinical decision-making. According to the model, a patient is analogous to a literary text which may be interpreted on four levels: (1) the literal facts of the patient's body and the literal story told by the patient, (2) the diagnostic meaning of the literal data, (3) the praxis (prognosis and therapeutic decisions) emanating from the diagnosis, and (4) the change effected by the clinical encounter in both the patient's and clinician's life-worlds. The model is illustrated through application to a medical case.
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