The purpose of this article is twofold. First, it introduces a new method for capturing the intricacy of communication in contemporary healthcare encounters. The method, termed 'form analysis', was developed from the systems theory of Niklas Luhmann. It is hoped that the paper will introduce form analysis as a new method to help understand complex communications in health systems. Second, the paper demonstrates an application of form analysis in communications in dental encounters. Data were collected through 36 observed encounters between five dentists and 20 patients in UK NHS primary and secondary care dental clinics. The study found a range of semantic forms relevant for these encounters, three of which are discussed at length in this article. The forms of communications illustrate how the dichotomy of dental professional and patient perspectives transforms into complex, non-linear observations about oral health. Dentistry, it seems, remains up to date not only through the emergence of new technologies, but also through reflexivity in observing and assessing oral health. These observations are exposed to the contingency of clinical decisions and the temporal aspects of the clinical system.
- Dental encounters
- Form analysis