Knowledge is Power? The role of health information – Sue Ziebland

November 26, 2009

“Innovative health technologies: health systems in transition Workshop”

Supported by: Internet Interdisciplinary Institute (IN3)

Organized by: Francisco Lupiáñez-Villanueva (Internet Interdisciplinary Institute –UOC) and Michael Hardey (Hull/York Medical School – Science and Technology Studies Unit, Department of Sociology, University of York)

Data: 26th and 27th November

Place: UOC IN3 building. Av. Canal Olímpic, s/n. Edifici B3, 08860 Castelldefels (Barcelona)

Sue Ziebland’s presentation – Knowledge is Power? The role of health information

Knowledge is often described as ‘power’. Current discourses emphasise the value of health information to the public and patients yet until recently the more complex interactional aspects of acquiring, avoiding and displaying information have received little attention. This study used secondary analysis of qualitative interviews with people in UK who have been treated for a life threatening condition. We consider the symbolic roles that health information has in these accounts.

Wide variation was reported in how health professionals offer (or steer people away from) information.  Decisions cannot be shared without information but the specific information that people want (eg about their own circumstances) is often not available. Patients were advised to quiz consultants about their experience and to ascertain precisely who will be undertaking surgical procedures, but these are challenging issues to raise in consultations. Those who do not seek information sometimes feel that they have relinquished control, or been negligent in their management of their own illness, and thus feel responsible if things go wrong.

Accounts of the manner in which ‘health information’ is handled between the health professional and patient suggests a web of symbolic meanings that  position the patient as more or less expert, responsible or  blameworthy for their health outcomes and the health  professionals as more or less paternalistic, consultative and humane.

Sue Ziebland

Sue Ziebland is a medical sociologist and Reader in Qualitative Health Research at the University of Oxford. Sue has worked as a researcher in the academic, NHS and voluntary sectors and has over 100 publications in social science and health journals and books. Sue is research director of the Health Experiences Research group, University of Oxford. The group of 12 social science researchers conduct qualitative interview studies, throughout the UK, for the multimedia web sites ( and ).  Sue’s research interests include e-health, self care, information for choice and qualitative methods.