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Public Underst Sci. 2016 May;25(4):427-32. doi: 10.1177/0963662516629746.

In science communication, why does the idea of a public deficit always return? How do the shifting information flows in healthcare affect the deficit model of science communication?

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University of Sydney, Australia


The healthcare field contains a multitude of opportunities for science communication. Given the many stakeholders dancing together in a multidirectional tango of communication, we need to ask how much does the deficit model apply to the health field? History dictates that healthcare professionals are the holders of all knowledge, and the patients and other stakeholders are the ones that need the scientific information communicated to them. This essay argues otherwise, in part due to the rise of shared decision-making and patients and other stakeholders acting as partners in healthcare. The traditional deficit model in health held that: (1) doctors were experts and patients were consumers, (2) it is impossible for the public to grasp the many disciplines of knowledge in medicine, (3) if experts have trouble keeping up with medical research then the public surely can't keep up, and (4) it is safer for healthcare professionals to communicate to the public using a deficit model. However, with the rise of partnerships with patients in healthcare decision-making, the deficit model might be weakening. Examples of public participation in healthcare decision-making include: (1) crowd-sourcing public participation in systematic reviews, (2) public participation in health policy, (3) public collaboration in health research, and (4) health consumer groups acting as producers of health information. With the challenges to the deficit model in science communication in health, caution is needed with the increasing role of technology and social media, and how these may affect the legitimacy of healthcare information flows away from the healthcare professional.


deficit model; healthcare; public participation; science communication; shared decision making

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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