The infrastructure of telecare: implications for nursing tasks and the nurse-doctor relationship

Sociol Health Illn. 2019 Jan;41(1):67-80. doi: 10.1111/1467-9566.12781. Epub 2018 Aug 3.


Telecare can offer a unique experience of trust in patient-nurse relationships, embracing new standards for professional discretion among nurses, but also reflects an increasingly complicated relationship between nurses and doctors. The study uses ethnographic methodology in relation to a large 5 million euro project at four hospitals caring for 120 patients with COPD. Twenty screen-mediated conferences were observed and two workshops, centring on nurses' photo elucidation of the practice of telecare, were conducted with a focus on shifting tasks, professional discretion, responsibility and boundaries between nurses and doctors. Analytically, the study draws on Star's notion of 'infrastructure' and Mol, Moser and Pols's ideas of care as 'tinkering'. Infrastructure is understood as human and non-human conduct that is embedded into wider organisational conventions, sites and structures. The analysis demonstrates and proposes that, in telecare, greater accountability, discretion and responsibility are imposed on the nurse, but that they also have less access to the means of clinical decision-making, namely, doctors. The article explores how relational infrastructures ascribe the professions they constitute (nurses and doctors) functions of power and accountability and highlights the ethical problem of the nurse being given greater responsibility while simultaneously becoming more dependent on the doctor.

Keywords: ethnography; interaction analysis; interviewing (qualitative); visual methods.

MeSH terms

  • Anthropology, Cultural
  • Delivery of Health Care / organization & administration
  • Denmark
  • Hospitals
  • Humans
  • Nurse's Role / psychology*
  • Physician-Nurse Relations*
  • Professional Role / psychology*
  • Telemedicine / methods*
  • Telemedicine / organization & administration