American Culture Studies Ph.D. Dissertations

Title

Healthy Bodies Matter: Analysis of the Disclosure of Race and Health Care on WebMD.com

Date of Award

2015

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Department

American Culture Studies

First Advisor

Radhika Gajjala (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Ellen Berry (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Angela Nelson (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Lessie Cochran (Other)

Abstract

Offline racial health and health care disparities have been well documented and researched. However there has not been as much research into how these offline disparities have translated into online environments. Specifically, this study examines health websites, with a focus primarily on WebMD.com, that have become ubiquitous to the process of obtaining health information which has become self-propelled by the consumer. The model of health care where by the medical professional serves a patient their knowledge in a one-way model has largely been phased out in favor of a fluid exchange in which patients also bring medical knowledge and information to the table. Overwhelmingly, the information that the patient contributes comes from cyber research from websites such as WebMD.com. The Health 2.0 movement has furthered the expectation of patients to be proactive members of their health care who should research their conditions, symptoms, and treatments in addition to seeking medical professionals advice. Health 2.0 is predicated on users data input into online health care environments. Users interact with each other to exchange information and provide medical support to each other in what seems to be a radical departure from a traditional paternalistic model of health care that helps to reinforce institutional racism that perpetuates racial health and health care disparities. However examining a health website such as WebMD.com reveals that not only has cyberspace not created a radical egalitarian arena for health information exchange, health care websites have largely perpetuated the same model of health care information exchange that information exchange in cyberspace in general and Health 2.0 specifically attempts to circumvent. Using Michel Foucault's idea of the medical gaze, I analyzed WebMD.com as a site in which patients can learn the medical gaze and thus procure medical knowledge the same way that was previously limited to those entering medical school. As such this project shows how offline racial health care disparities are perpetuated through discourses of race and health on WebMD.com and how these discourses become a precursor to the Health 2.0 movement.

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