The use of technology at home: what patient manuals say and sell vs. what patients face and fear

Sociol Health Illn. 2004 Jul;26(5):617-44. doi: 10.1111/j.0141-9889.2004.00408.x.


Over the past 15 years, the use of specialised medical equipment by patients at home has increased in most industrialised countries. Adopting a conceptual framework that brings together two research perspectives, i.e. the sociology of technology and the sociology of illness, this paper empirically examines why and how patients use health technology at home and in the broader social world. Our study compares and contrasts the use of four interventions: antibiotic intravenous therapy, parenteral nutrition, peritoneal dialysis and oxygen therapy. We conducted interviews with patients (n = 16) and caregivers (n = 6), and made direct observations of home visits by nurses (n = 16). The content and structure of patient manuals distributed by major manufacturers and hospitals were analysed (n = 26). The aim of our study was to determine how technology was supposed to be used versus how it was actually used. This study shows that patients are deeply ambivalent about the benefits and drawbacks of technology, and that these advantages and disadvantages are shaped by the various places in which the technology is used. While technology can be pivotal in making patients autonomous and able to participate in the social world, it also imposes heavy restrictions that are intimately interwoven with the nature of the particular disease and with the patient's personal life trajectory.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Attitude to Health*
  • Community Health Nursing / organization & administration
  • Fear
  • Female
  • Home Care Services / standards*
  • Home Infusion Therapy / adverse effects
  • Home Infusion Therapy / nursing
  • Home Infusion Therapy / psychology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Manuals as Topic / standards
  • Medical Laboratory Science / education
  • Medical Laboratory Science / standards*
  • Middle Aged
  • Nursing Methodology Research
  • Oxygen Inhalation Therapy / adverse effects
  • Oxygen Inhalation Therapy / nursing
  • Oxygen Inhalation Therapy / psychology
  • Parenteral Nutrition, Home / adverse effects
  • Parenteral Nutrition, Home / nursing
  • Parenteral Nutrition, Home / psychology
  • Patient Education as Topic / methods
  • Patient Education as Topic / standards*
  • Peritoneal Dialysis / adverse effects
  • Peritoneal Dialysis / nursing
  • Peritoneal Dialysis / psychology
  • Quebec
  • Sociology, Medical
  • Surveys and Questionnaires