Central and East European
Society for Phenomenology

Conference | Paper

The Role of Embodiment in Being with the Doctor Online. A Phenomenological Perspective on Patient Experience of Teleconsultation

Māra Grīnfelde

Thursday 2 December 2021

12:50 - 13:30

Zoom 1-2

The global crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic has considerably accelerated the use of teleconsultation (consultation between the patient and the doctor via video platforms). While it is clear that video-based online clinical encounter has certainly taken away many possibilities for action accessible to both the patient and the doctor, such as, for example, the possibility to touch the other person, it is not clear how the absence of the physical body has modified the interaction between the physician and the patient. The aim of my paper is to find out how the patient experiences being with the doctor online and what is the role of embodiment in this experience? This question is motivated by two things. Firstly, by insights expressed within phenomenology of medicine regarding the nature of clinical encounter (Edmund Pellegrino, Kay Toombs), namely, that the clinical encounter contains a face-to-face relationship between the patient and the doctor, ensuring a successful healing process, which among other things presupposes patient’s experience of “intimacy, closeness, expression, emotion and contact” (Dolezal) with the doctor. Secondly, the question is motivated by the suspicion expressed by contemporary phenomenologists (Hubert Dreyfus, Tomas Fuchs, Havi Carel, Luna Dolezal) regarding the nature of online video-based interaction, namely, that it differs significantly from the embodied face-to-face contact. For example, with reference to the concepts of embodiment and intercorporeality, found in the works of Merleau-Ponty, Dolezal argues that a video encounter will always fall short of the on-site encounter due to the lack of embodied proximity to the other person. I will approach the issue from the perspective of phenomenology, including both insights from the phenomenological philosophy and the results from the phenomenologically informed qualitative research study about patient experience of teleconsultation, which I have conducted. Firstly, I will show that based on the results of the qualitative research study, patients do experience emotions, expression, closeness, and contact with the doctor, which in some cases is even higher than in on-site face-to-face consultations. Secondly, I will argue, that this has less to do with the embodied nature of the interaction and more to do with 1) the lack of the clinical environment (lack of the doctor’s office, waiting room, etc.); 2) the particularities of the online environment (such as the undivided attention from the doctor); and 3) the previous relationship between the patient and the doctor. Thus, I will argue that the on-site embodied interaction is not a necessary condition for a successful healing process.