3 min read

What the Foucault?

Being planned and purposeful with messaging

In the last of our five ideas to enhance patient centricity, we look at how to set up collaboration projects that harness the power of language to generate positive actions and beliefs among our stakeholders. As with the first four ideas, social sciences can help us steer the right course.

Inspiration from social sciences

Discourse analysis is a set of methods to analyse the written and spoken word. Developed by social theorist, Michel Foucault, Foucauldian Discourse Analysis goes a step further, focusing on how language suggests and cements power dynamics.

Words have power. You only have to look at the consequences, positive or negative, from a simple tweet from a high profile celebrity or politician to see that. The interesting bit is that how a topic is described puts people into different positions — positions of power or not — and that positioning affects people’s behaviour.

Here’s an example. An analysis of personal health budget policy in the UK showed that these budgets were described in six different ways, positioning patients as either beneficiaries, partners or service users. It turned out that each positioning may affect how empowered a patient felt to use personal health budgets as a self-care tool.

What this means for patient centricity

When we are working to advance patient centricity within our organisations and/or creating new healthcare interventions, we will be sharing ideas with our stakeholders. The way we express these ideas will position people in different ways (for example, as budget holders, decision makers, collaborators, or recipients).

It is vital to be aware that these positionings may create power dynamics and affect how people respond to our ideas. And clearly, we want to create positionings that generate honest responses that are supportive of goals.

Getting started

When we accept that the language we use may position different groups, our first step in any project is to identify and understand who we want to work with and why.

We then need to translate this understanding into written and verbal communications. As part of this translation process, we can use the principles of discourse analysis to pressure test the messaging.

Our report lays out a simple action plan to make sure messaging is planned and purposeful and it’s just a click away. Download the full report here here


Pond, A (2017). The impact of language on the implementation of personal health budgets: a Foucauldian Discourse Analysis. MSc. University of Birmingham – Health Services Management Centre

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