A blog from the Centre for Research Ethics & Bioethics (CRB)

Tag: economisation

The voices of telenursing

PÄR SEGERDAHL Associate Professor of Philosophy and editor of The Ethics BlogI believe that many who call a telenurse are wondering which voice they will encounter. Will it be considerate or dismissive? Male or female? Young or old? Sympathetic or unsympathetic?

I guess also the telenurse is wondering which voice he or (usually) she will encounter when answering the call. Will it be self-assertive or self-denying? Male or female? Young or old? Eloquent or stumbling?

This uncertainty is revealing. Telephone counseling has sensitive dimensions that influence how the conversation develops and what it leads to. There is no direct connection between how you feel and the advice you get, for it will also depend on how the voices take shape and come together in conversation. We know this instinctively before the conversation started. Therefore we wonder, perhaps with some dread: what will the other voice be like?

This is a challenge for telenursing. The aim is to make health care more effective, accessible and safe, and there is potential to challenge inequities in health care. Meanwhile, gender, age, ethnicity and socioeconomic status will be expressed in voices that respond to each other largely beyond our conscious control.

Therefore, it is an important research task to study telenursing and raise awareness of what is happening in the conversations. One such study from Uppsala University was recently published:

The study is done by Roya Hakimnia, together with Inger K. Holmström, Marianne Carlsson and Anna T. Höglund. They develop a qualitative analysis of 20 calls to Swedish Healthcare Direct, and identify a number of relevant types of calls. One type of call, for example, is when the telenurse speaks more as a gatekeeper than as a nurse. Another is when gender norms are central and have consequences, as when a man calls reluctantly and doesn’t get the advice he might need. Another type of call is distinctly medical and avoids the life situation of the caller, although it might be what is relevant.

Portions of several conversations are included in the article. One can thus read transcripts of specific calls, and analyses of them, side by side. This I found quite excellent. The analyses help one to see and to think further about what is happening in the conversations, while the conversations help one to see the point of the analyses.

The study is in my opinion a fine example of how qualitative research can highlight sensitive processes that we normally do not survey or control. Sometimes we need to look more closely at the individual cases.

Pär Segerdahl

In dialogue with patients

The economisation of the language of medicine

Two American physicians recently wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine about how they were forced back to school again learning another foreign language. In medical school they learned that measles was called rubeola and itching pruritus. Today they learn that patient is called “customer” (or “consumer”) while doctor and nurse both are called “providers.”

The authors guess that spiralling health care costs drive this “economisation” of their professional language. Economists and politicians believe that the solution to the cost problematic lies in the industrialisation and standardisation of health care. Hospitals are to be run as modern businesses and the traditional language of medicine modified with terms that correspond to the professionals’ new factory functions. Above all, the patient relation is updated as a customer relation.

The two doctors see the economisation of their language as reductionist. It neglects the psychological, spiritual, and humanistic aspects of the relation to the patient. Precisely these aspects made medicine a “calling,” they write. The economisation of medicine concerns not only language, however, but also the organization of work. Doctors are less free to make their own decisions based on their clinical judgment. They are forced to follow manuals written by experts, as if they were on the factory floor following the chief engineer’s scheme.

When I read the article I thought that an alternative way of formulating the problem is in terms of means and ends. The authors’ note that clinical care always had a financial aspect, but the treatment of the patient still was in focus as the doctor’s primary goal. When profit took overhand as the goal, it was seen as a betrayal of the doctor’s calling and worth ridiculing, as in Moliere’s plays. The economisation of medicine turns the relation of means and ends inside out. The end of treating the patient is snatched out of the doctor’s hands and become a means towards other, economic ends. The analysis of the alienation this means is old and it is tempting to hear echoes from another century in the article’s finish, which I cannot avoid paraphrasing: “Doctors and nurses of the world, unite! Through off the language that demeans both patient and professional and that threatens the heart of medicine!”

Simultaneously, one must admit that new generations grow up that do not seem alienated in this new world, but act as self-evident consumers of health care.

Pär Segerdahl

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