Hospital consultations and jurisdiction over patients: consequences for the medical profession

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Abstract

Advances in biomedical technologies and the increased specialisation of the medical profession have made collaborations among specialty physicians integral to care delivery. As physicians increasingly must share patients, how does this shape the jurisdiction that physicians hold? The sociological literature has extensively documented inter-professional jurisdictional claims and conflicts to maintain the professional power of physicians in relation to allied occupational groups. However, less is known of intra-professional avoidance and resolution of conflict over jurisdiction. This case study considers how jurisdictions are shared, maintained and challenged in a single profession. Drawing from ethnographic and interview data collected from September 2010 to October 2012 on the internal medicine service of a teaching hospital in the USA, I demonstrate the variation in jurisdictional conflicts that emerge between internal medicine and other specialties during the consultation process. Ignoring shared jurisdictions and refusing to accept jurisdiction of patients generate disputes among the principal medical and specialist teams. These disputes ensue due to blurred boundaries dividing the various specialties. To avoid conflicts, internal medicine physicians adopt strategies behind the scenes to facilitate smooth consultations.

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