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Techno fixes in health care settings?

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Information and communication technologies (ICT) are often held up as a ‘techno fix’ for the problems facing healthcare organizations. Computer decision support systems (CDSS), in particular, claim to make decision-making faster, more accurate, efficient, and safer. They offer opportunities to change the nature of the work and the configuration of the workforce and, in the healthcare setting they may also speak to the evidence based practice agendas which dominate much policy thinking. This paper reports an ongoing project examining a CDSS deployed in different healthcare environments. We are combining ethnography and survey methods to describe the development and use of a single CDSS in urgent and emergency care. We are drawing on the Normalisation Process Theory (May, Finch et al) to provide a systematic theoretical framework for our analysis and augmenting this with insights from science and technology studies and the sociology of work and organizations. Our findings directly challenge the techno fix argument and point to the development and maintenance of user expertise, and the highly contingent and continual evolution of both the CDSS and healthcare work.

Speaker Biography

Catherine Pope is Professor of medical sociology in the Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Southampton. She has been doing and thinking about qualitative research for nearly twenty years. Her substantive research focuses on the organization and delivery of care and the sociology of professional practice. Current funded projects include a study of the everyday use of a computer decision support system, an ethnography about how handover communication really works in the ambulance service, and possible extensions to the service provided by NHS Direct. She has recently begun an exciting collaboration with computer scientists to explore how sociology might contribute to web science which is forcing her to learn more about web and computer technologies.

This talk is part of the Qualitative Research Forum series.

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