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Physis: Revista de Saúde Coletiva

On-line version ISSN 1809-4481


FONTANELLA, Bruno José Barcellos; SILVA, Fernanda Rodrigues da  and  GOMES, Romeu. Rituals and symbols in the formal health care: the case of professional clothing, from the viewpoint of primary care patients. Physis [online]. 2012, vol.22, n.2, pp.507-525. ISSN 1809-4481.

This study aimed to analyze and interpret the thoughts and experiences of service users attending Primary Care / Family Health Units (FHU) on the use of white coat or white clothes by physicians and other health professionals. The method used was interviews with open questions, in depth, with users of FHU, transcribed and analyzed for content and statements. The sample was closed by theoretical saturation. As a result, eleven interviews were identified in a marked asymmetry and psychological and socio-cultural background of the three identified clusters of meaning: clothing as a mark of identity; clothing is not valued as a symbol of professional competence and clothing interferes, positively or negatively, in relations between clinicians and patients. We discuss the urgency of symbolization in health, the difficulties of the participants discuss the topic and why the emergence of possible new symbols of power. Finally, it was concluded that understanding the meanings assigned by users of health systems to the acts and practices carried out by their caregivers may contribute to the progressive refinement of these formal practices of care. Although the functions of ritualistic behaviors and objects used in acts of health care are more easily observed in so-called informal and popular practices, they persist in formal or professional ways of acting. This type of phenomenon occurred after the emergence of modern scientific medicine, with the white coat, for example, and remains at present, although new symbols appear to arise and occupy this ritual space.

Keywords : Professional-patient relationship; doctor-patient relationship; clothing; anthropology; ritualistic behavior.

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