Cultivating Effective Communication in Healthcare: The Case of Q&A Websites

Rosita Maglie


Question-and-answer (Q&A) websites in health domains have become virtual places where information and advice can be sought and obtained. Such virtual encounters with different linguistic communities have increasingly become the norm for young people who rarely undergo regular medical examinations. For this category of people, the Internet is the electronic gateway to confidential advice and information on health issues. In this regard, Q&A websites, such as Kinsey Confidential, Go Ask Alice!, and The Teenage Health Freak offer a unique and novel vantage point from which to survey both how young people think and talk about their own health, and how health professionals engage in new modes of communication to provide health advice and information.

In order to scrutinize adolescents and health professionals’ communicative behavior, this study not only has the potential to provide linguistic data for the expanding field of research in computer-mediated communication (CMC), but it could also prove meaningful to health professionals themselves and policymakers. It adopts a corpus-based approach to discourse analysis to provide quantitative evidence of the occurrence of qualitative patterns of discourse and language use in Kinsey Confidential, Go Ask Alice! and The Teenage Health Freak corpora, particularly in Q&A posts on health issues such as birth control and pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, and gender and sexual orientation. Findings show how unfamiliar young people still are with regards to sexual health. While some misconceptions and prejudices can be ascribed to popular myths and rumors, much of this lack of knowledge is due to a scarcity of successful educational interventions and policy initiatives. For this reason, investigating how healthcare providers interact with adolescents online can lead us to new ways of thinking about successful relationships between patients and healthcare providers, and helps us prepare future educational models that incorporate online communication and consider how young people think about and participate in these language communities.


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