The use of technology in cancer care: applying Foucault's ideas to explore the changing dynamics of power in health care

J Adv Nurs. 2009 Feb;65(2):306-15. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2648.2008.04870.x.


Aim: This study is a report to identify the utility of a hand-held side-effect monitoring system for people receiving chemotherapy in the home care setting.

Background: Increasingly, health care is being provided in people's own homes and communities rather than in hospitals. This has driven the development of technologies which support patients in the home environment. The meaning of such technologies can be explored from a Foucauldian perspective to shed light on how they enable new forms of medical surveillance.

Method: An intervention study was performed in 2006 using new technologies for people receiving chemotherapy. Questionnaires were completed by 56 people affected by cancer who used the new technology; 12 of these people were then interviewed. Secondary analysis of the interview data is presented in this paper, drawing on Foucault's writing about surveillance and power in medical settings.

Findings: The interview transcripts contain numerous examples of people affected by cancer reflecting on issues such as power and surveillance in cancer care. While these terms are ordinarily considered to reflect negative elements of care, they were used by participants in an empowering manner.

Conclusion: Theoretical insights can help nurses to think critically about the advances of technology. In particular, there are implications for how nurses consider the relationship of technology to patients and for power dynamics in healthcare relationships. We suggest that there is a need to problematize and celebrate the growth of technologically-driven health surveillance.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Biomedical Technology*
  • Community Health Services / methods
  • Computers, Handheld*
  • Delivery of Health Care / methods*
  • Home Care Services*
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / complications
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Patient Satisfaction
  • Power, Psychological