Hearts in their hands—Physicians’ gestures embodying shared professional knowledge around the world

Quasinowski B., Assa S., Bachmann C., Chen W., ELÇİN M., Kamisli C., ...More

Sociology of Health and Illness, vol.45, no.5, pp.1101-1122, 2023 (SSCI) identifier identifier identifier

  • Publication Type: Article / Article
  • Volume: 45 Issue: 5
  • Publication Date: 2023
  • Doi Number: 10.1111/1467-9566.13639
  • Journal Name: Sociology of Health and Illness
  • Journal Indexes: Social Sciences Citation Index (SSCI), Scopus, Academic Search Premier, FRANCIS, International Bibliography of Social Sciences, Periodicals Index Online, Abstracts in Social Gerontology, CAB Abstracts, CINAHL, Educational research abstracts (ERA), EMBASE, ERIC (Education Resources Information Center), MEDLINE, Political Science Complete, Psycinfo, Public Affairs Index, Social services abstracts, Sociological abstracts, Veterinary Science Database, Worldwide Political Science Abstracts, DIALNET
  • Page Numbers: pp.1101-1122
  • Keywords: gesture, global diffusion, heart failure, medical knowledge, patient communication, physician-patient interaction
  • Hacettepe University Affiliated: Yes


The biomedical approach to medical knowledge is widely accepted around the world. This article considers whether the incorporated aspects of physician-patient interaction have become similarly common across the globe by comparing the gestures that physicians use in their interactions with patients. Up to this point, there has been little research on physicians’ use of gestures in health-care settings. We explore how—in four university hospitals in Turkey, the People’s Republic of China, The Netherlands and Germany—physicians use gesture in their discussions with simulated patients about the condition of heart failure. Our analysis confirms the importance of gestures for organising both the personal interaction and the knowledge transfer between physician and patient. From the perspective of global comparison, it is notable that physicians in all four hospitals used similar gestures. This demonstrates the globality of biomedical knowledge in an embodied mode. Physicians used gestures for a range of purposes, including to convey the idea of an ‘anatomical map’ and for constructing visual models of (patho-)physiological processes. Since biomedical language is rife with metaphor, it was not surprising that we also identified an accompanying metaphorical gesture which has a similar form in the various locations that were part of the study.