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A Sociological Study of Social Resources and the Patient Experience of Multiple Chronic Illnesses

Porter, Tom

A Sociological Study of Social Resources and the Patient Experience of Multiple Chronic Illnesses Thumbnail


Tom Porter


The number of people living with multiple chronic illnesses (multimorbidity) is increasing and this trend is set to continue. In recent years, there has been a significant increase in epidemiological and clinically informed research into this patient population. However, the extant literature offers relatively little insight into how lay individuals make sense of multimorbidity.
Social resources, or the physical and emotional sustenance provided by others, are recognised increasingly as a means towards affecting health outcomes. Social resources are apparent as a nascent theme at the levels of health and social care policy, service organisation, and increasingly, at the level of primary care delivery. However, the apparent enthusiasm for social resources is not universal, and critics have questioned both the socio-political motives behind this trend as well as its underlying social theory.
This study employs in-depth qualitative interviews and applies an interpretive approach to analysis. 15 participants living with (at least) osteoarthritis and cardiovascular disease took part in up to two interviews. In addition, a small number of participants’ spouses (four) were recruited into the study.
Findings illustrate the ways in which lay individuals make sense of multimorbidity. This thesis draws attention to certain biomedical assumptions made by clinically informed literature. These assumptions are discussed with regard to the concept of illness prioritisation and the relevance of multimorbidity (in conceptual terms) to lay experience.
Findings also illustrate the complexity of social resource exchange during illness. A novel conceptual model is developed to elucidate participants’ accounts of supportive practices. Further, findings highlight the role of morality in shaping the experience of support. These observations are synthesised under the theoretical banner of gift-exchange theory, and implications are identified for the application of social resources in policy and service delivery.


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