Roles and identities in transition: boundaries of work and inter-professional relationships at the interface between telehealth and primary care

Health Soc Care Community. 2013 Nov;21(6):606-13. doi: 10.1111/hsc.12047. Epub 2013 May 9.


Shifting the balance of care towards home and community is viewed as requiring interventions which enhance or complement primary care. Technology-based interventions are seen as key to the future in this work. Telehealthcare implicates a new agenda for inter-professional working across boundaries of healthcare. One such interface is between telehealthcare professionals and professionals located in primary care. This study reports the findings from a qualitative study forming part of a broader project examining the potential of developing and implementing telehealth interventions to support patients with long-term conditions. Semi-structured interviews were undertaken with telehealth nurse care managers, practice nurses and general practitioners in their respective work settings (39 interviews with 62 participants). Observation was undertaken at a telehealth call centre. The research took place between April 2010 and March 2011. Thematic analysis of qualitative data was undertaken. Telehealth nurse care managers' interviews suggested narrative constructions of new roles and identities to fit telehealth work, combining a holistic ideal and retro-appeal with 'traditional' values of nursing, which distinguished and distanced them from counterparts in general practices. Practice nurses and general practitioners were ambivalent and often sceptical about the contribution of telehealth to long-term condition work. Practice nurses' accounts suggested a sense of protectiveness about maintaining boundaries around established remits of managing long-term conditions; general practitioners, having devolved much of the care of long-term conditions to nurses, were keen to retain their positions as gatekeepers to resources. Perceptions of shifts of professional roles, new ways of working and how they are valued form a relevant contextual element to the introduction of telehealth interventions. A pre-emptive view and response to how professionals understand and approach increasingly complex and multi-faceted roles within primary care is likely to prepare and facilitate the introduction and integration of telehealth innovations into existing patient services.

Keywords: long-term conditions; primary care; professional roles; qualitative research; telehealth; telehealthcare.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Interprofessional Relations*
  • Long-Term Care
  • Primary Health Care*
  • Professional Role*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Remote Consultation*
  • United Kingdom