The Patient’s Lifeworld: Building meaningful clinical encounters between patients, physicians and interpreters


  • Yvan Leanza Université Laval
  • Isabelle Boivin Université de Sherbrooke
  • Ellen Rosenberg McGill University



Habermas communicative action theory, intercultural medical encounters, medical interpreter, mixed method, physician–patient communication


In this paper, our objectives are first to explore the different ways physicians and interpreters interact with patients’ Lifeworld, and second, to describe and compare communication patterns in consultations with professional and those with family interpreters. We used a qualitative design and conducted analyses of transcriptions of 16 family practice consultations in Montréal in the presence of interpreters. Patterns of communication are delineated grounded in Habermas’ Communicative Action Theory and Mishler’s operational concepts of Voice of Medicine and Voice of Lifeworld. Four communication patterns emerged: (1) strategically using Lifeworld data to achieve biomedical goals, (2) having an interest in the Lifeworld for itself, (3) integrating the Lifeworld with biomedicine and (4) referring to another professional. Our results suggest physicians engage with patients’ Lifeworld and may benefit from both types of interpreters’ understanding of the patient’s specific situations. A professional interpreter is likely to transmit the patient’s Lifeworld utterances to the physician. A family member, on the other hand, may provide extra biomedical and Lifeworld information, but also prevent the patient’s Lifeworld accounts from reaching the physician. Physicians’ training should include advice on how to work with all type of interpreters and interpreters’ training should include mediation competencies in order to enhance their ability to promote the processes of co-construction of meaning.

Author Biographies

Yvan Leanza, Université Laval

Yvan Leanza received his Ph.D in Education from the University of Geneva, and was a postdoctorate fellow at McGill University, faculty of medicine. He is currently associate professor at the School of Psychology in Laval University, Québec City, Canada. His research interests focus on health professionals in multicultural settings and interpreters’ roles and impact in triadic relation and communication processes.

Isabelle Boivin, Université de Sherbrooke

Isabelle Boivin, D.Psy., is a registered psychologist working at the students’ clinic at Université Laval (Quebec City, Canada). She used to work as a research assistant for Yvan Leanza. Her research interests include developmental psychology (personal epistemology) in adults and intercultural psychology, in particular communication processes between interpreters, patients/clients and health professionals.

Ellen Rosenberg, McGill University

Ellen Rosenberg, M.D. is currently associate professor in the Department of Family Medicine at McGill University. She is a family doctor at the Hospital St-Mary's. Her research interests focus on primary care clinical encounters and the doctor-patient relationship in order to characterize those aspects that are beneficial and adverse to patients’ health; intercultural communication, and interpreters.



How to Cite

Leanza, Y., Boivin, I., & Rosenberg, E. (2014). The Patient’s Lifeworld: Building meaningful clinical encounters between patients, physicians and interpreters. Communication and Medicine, 10(1), 13–25.