Article Highlight: Expert Knowledge Influences Decision-Making for Couples Receiving Positive Prenatal Chromosomal Microarray Testing Results

This week on the blog we are highlighting a paper by M.A. Rubel, A. Werner-Lin, F. K. Barg, B. A. Bernhardt, titled Expert Knowledge Influences Decision-Making for Couples Receiving Positive Prenatal Chromosomal Microarray Testing Results. The authors completed phone interviews with women and their partners who had received positive prenatal microarray testing results. The authors then analyze the data using modified grounded theory, discussing the theme of cultural expert knowledge and the implications on research and practice of prenatal testing. They close by recommending a future assessment of informational needs before testing to aid both the patient and their partners.


The authors begin by describing the increase in the use of prenatal genetic testing by pregnant women. Potential methods of genetic testing include invasive, non-invasive, and integrated screening for various potential fetal anomalies or genetic conditions. Chromosomal microarray, also called prenatal microarray, is a prenatal test that is used to “detect copy-number variants not detectable by conventional cytogenetic” (Rubel et al, 2017, 383). These test are recommended by the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology if an anomaly is found via ultrasound. Parents feel anxiety after receiving a result of variant of uncertain significance, which can affect their decision-making following the result.

Western biomedicine helps to inform the biomedical expert knowledge (BEK) that holds a privileged status. BEK has roots in cultural and social conditions that shape how the knowledge is interpreted. BEK is founded in the idea that “aspects of the patient’s body and its symptoms are variables that can be independently and objectively evaluated and treated” (384). However, the genome may also be interpreted through a standard outside of biomedical knowledge. These other frameworks of medical knowledge may be used to interpret the testing done to women.

For this study, the authors recruited subjects for the study from the distribution of a pamphlet to pregnant women who received results from microarray testing. These women could then choose to participate in a short online survey that asked for demographic information and the results of the microarray test. The women who completed the survey and indicated interest were then e-mailed with information about the interview portion of the study. In total, 152 female patients completed the survey and 27 women were interviewed. 12 of their male partners were then subsequently interviewed.

Those who received positive results with uncertain or variable outcomes underwent a “state of crisis” after their results (388). They attempted to find the information related to their situation; some clinicians even provided the patients such biomedical information through literature and leaflets. Some patients were reassured by entrusting the health care providers to also provide the knowledge. Yet some providers may not wish to take a directive position and provide such materials.

Most of the patients interviewed expressed frustration that there was not enough information or resource provided initially by their clinicians. Patients that sought out BEK often turned to the internet. Those who considered themselves educated found it easier to search the information they could find online, yet there was still a general frustration about the BEK that was provided. Because of this frustration, patients often turned to other sources of understanding. The authors also extensively other ways of knowing and understanding their test results. These include embodied knowledge, spiritual beliefs, social networks, and a family history. These other types of knowledge other than BEK allowed the patients to understand their test results on their own terms.

The authors propose the term “Cultural Expert Knowledge” or CEK to encompass the types of knowledge that patients gained from outside the biomedical paradigm. This non-expert knowledge was some patients only information source. This provides a contrasting source of information to BEK and helps patients to understand their test results on their own terms. The authors close with a discussion about the difficulties of quantifying CEK since it is based on individual conceptions and outside of the biomedical sphere. They acknowledge the limitations of the study and provide further areas for expansion of the research base.


Article Highlight: Vol. 41, Issue 3, “Don’t Give Up! A Cyber-ethnography and Discourse Analysis of an Online Infertility Patient Forum”

This week on the blog we are highlighting an article from our most recent edition, Volume 41, Issue 3, by Mihan Lee entitled Don’t Give Up! A Cyber-ethnography and Discourse Analysis of an Online Infertility Patient Forum.  The study explores the patients’ access to psychological support when dealing with a diagnosis of infertility. This is done through patient interviews and a cyber-ethnography of an online forum hosted by RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association. Lee explores the themes common across the different forum threads and the interviews to better understand the support systems of patients. Several themes emerge, such as the difficulty in obtaining treatment for many women because of resource burden and the stress of finding an option that fits within their parameters. The author proposes that not having the resources to access treatment silences women and denies them the support they came to the forum in search of.


Patients experience of their illness during and after treatment can be impacted by the social support in their environment. Patients in the contemporary age build social support networks on the Internet, turning to it for health information and access to resources to make decisions. Infertility patients can receive both the privacy and anonymity they often desire when using online resources for support. Those who are infertile may experience stigma for their condition or shame at not being the same as others who are fertile.

The author calls the main narrative of American infertility the ‘persistent patient’. This narrative is defined by a woman who wants a child and expresses her desire for through material resources. This requires that the woman have an education and access to financial resources so that she can access the resources available to medically treat her infertility. This creates a subset of women among the rest who are able to fit the ‘persistent patient’ narrative.

For the study, the author identified women to interview through posts on the sites infertility advocacy organizations. The fifty-five women interviewed were given a demographics questionnaire and then interviewed to find their patient narratives and discover both personal and professional views on infertility. Lee also conducted a “cyber-ethnography,” a critical analysis of posts in an online patient community. This was used to compare the effects of the Internet on the social support of the women. These were followed up with more refined interviews of patients.

For many women who experience infertility treatment, there is an extreme emotional burden. There is also a pressure  experienced from the stigmatization of the condition. While infertility is a condition that affects seven million women, many women still feel like the condition is abnormal. Because of this, women keep their condition and experience private.

Within the forums, there was a running theme that friends and family did not understand the stress and struggle of infertility, which further stressed the women. The posters in the online community then became a support network for the women who were feeling an external lack of support. They were able to understand other women’s pain because it was similar to their own. However, this is offset by the validation of only certain narratives, especially through an assumed access to the resources to pursue treatment.

One type of thread, the “roll call” served as “an opportunity for all patients starting a certain type of treatment .. to connect with one another”. These roll calls allowed women of different experiences to connect with those who could offer them support through their parallel treatment journeys.

Interestingly, Lee notes that it seems as if those who most often frequent the boards are those who have had several treatment cycles. This juxtaposes the lack of discussion about the financial, time, and other resources necessary to pursue multiple treatments. Without these resources, some women cannot pursue the infertility treatments they would like. Data suggests that despite the lack of discussion, this is a prevalent problem. Most states do not require that insurance option cover infertility treatment and only 20% of employers cover ARTs.

The financial burden on women seeking treatment that was seen in the online forums was also reflected in the in-depth interviews as well. Some of the primary barriers to using ARTs was the overwhelming price. To be able to pursue these treatments, women must have type of disposable income that can go towards it. Lee suggests that the lower-income and uninsured women may either not be vocal or silenced by the culture of the forum groups. In the otherwise vocal community, posts about stopping treatment because of financial strain often went unanswered. And when there were responses, they often ignored the real constraints of financial burden.

When women bring up their concerns, the dominant narrative of the ‘persistent patient’ raises its voice louder than any of the other posters within the group. This adds further strain to the women who are worried about their financial experiences of infertility because the place where they have found solace rejects them. A counter-discourse emerges as women discuss the ways in which they have learned to cope with having a childfree life. Lee suggests that the forum should broaden its reach to offer for support as women adjust to their decision to stop treatment or inability to continue treatment.

Lee concludes that the role of the ‘persistent patient’ is one that is only available to a privileged demographic and that the socioeconomic factors that affect accessibility to resources also affects the ability of some mothers to have children. The condition of infertility is thus not experienced as a single thread and the nuances of different women’s backgrounds should be considered when hearing or researching their narrative.