Journal of Applied Linguistics and Professional Practice, Vol 11, No 1 (2014)

Structure and texture in historical medical records: Professional accounting practices concerning loss of life

Julie Feilberg, Srikant Sarangi
Issued Date: 30 Apr 2018


Although the forms and functions of medical records – also called patient records – have long been a topic of research, there are few longitudinal and historical studies of examples pre-dating their modern form. In this paper we examine a set of records from a medical journal of an immigrant ship in the nineteenth century as a case study. Our focus is on the structure and texture of a selected sample of child patient records. The framework is theme-oriented discourse analysis, especially account analysis, as we characterise the surgeon superintendent’s accounting practices with regard to entries involving child patients (n = 28), comprising ‘cure’ and ‘loss of life’ scenarios. The findings, based on a selective corpus of seven cases, demonstrate that entries in the ‘loss of life’ cases, as opposed to the straightforward ‘cure’ cases, not only retain a loose structure but also display a ‘subjective experiential’ texture, contrary to the findings of many studies which report the prevalence of objective, technical language characteristic of contemporary patient records. We suggest that the narrative structure and rhetorical texture of the entries index the institutional function of the patient record, even beyond healthcare delivery concerning the individual patient.

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DOI: 10.1558/japl.30601


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