Visualising, navigating and making time: The use of a digital solution in treatment and rehabilitation from low back pain

Health (London). 2023 Nov 29:13634593231211496. doi: 10.1177/13634593231211496. Online ahead of print.


Illness trajectories are particularly characterised by the temporal dimension of human existence. In the area of low back pain, patients often have challenging temporal experiences such as unproductive waiting time and fragmented, repetitive consultations over many years. This study seeks to investigate relationships between digital technologies, temporal agency, and illness, through describing how users experienced a new digital solution, BackTrace, targeting patients with low back pain. The study builds on six months of ethnographic fieldwork, including semi-structured interviews, participant observation and a workshop. The study shows how the introduction of the digital solution could facilitate new possibilities of temporal actions for individuals living with and receiving care for low back pain. For many research participants, the use of BackTrace facilitated a useful visualisation of their past and present low back pain state; BackTrace could assist participants in navigating different external temporal demands; and it allocated time devoted to managing their back pain in everyday life and in consultations with health professionals. The study discusses how temporality can be a useful analytical entrance point to operationalise and explore the often-desired goal of empowerment in patient pathways.

Keywords: chronic illness and disability; ethnography; experiencing illness and narratives; patient-physician relationship; technology in healthcare.