Last week I attended Christiane Grünloh’s great PhD defence. Her thesis is a substantial contribution to knowledge in the area of eHealth services for patients. I especially think that the results related to patient empowerment is interesting and well worth reading.
Chrisitane Grünloh is really an excellent researcher. She is both brilliant and has the grit to pull through qualitative analysis of very high quality. The abstract of her PhD is copied below, and you find the thesis here. Christiane has also written a blog post about it found here. The defence was one of the best I have attended. Not only did Christiane do an excellent job shining like a bright star, her opponent was also brilliant and very well read up on her work. Taken together this was a great learning opportunity for everyone in the audience including me.
The picture for this blog post is borrowed from Twitter and Christiane’s twitter stream. If you need inspiration to write a PhD thesis of the same quality as Christiane has, then follow her on Twitter!
Healthcare systems worldwide face organisational and ﬁnancial challenges due to increasing number of people with chronic conditions, increasing costs, and an ageing population. eHealth services have the potential to address some of these challenges, for example, by supporting patients who are engaged in self-care, improving quality of care, and reducing medical costs.
In 2012, Region Uppsala in Sweden launched an eHealth service that enabled patients to access their electronic health records through the Internet. The launch of the service was accompanied by strong criticism from healthcare professionals (HCPs) and was heavily debated in the media. Patients on the other hand were very positive towards the service.
Albeit promising, the potential of Patient Accessible Electronic Health Records (PAEHRs) cannot be realised if HCPs still have reservations towards the service and their concerns are not fully understood. The purpose of this research is therefore to enhance our understanding of how physicians view PAEHR in relation to both their work environment and the level of patient participation. Furthermore, the aim is to shed light on whether their concerns related to patients’ well-being have materialised in practice and how patients view and make use of the service. Finally, this thesis identiﬁes implicated human values and value tensions related to PAEHR.
To enhance our understanding of the physicians’ perspective, semi-structured interviews with 12 physicians in Uppsala were thematically analysed. A national patient survey was conducted to investigate patients’ use of and their experiences with PAEHR. Furthermore, empirical and conceptual investigations were carried out to identify human values and value tensions.
The results of this research show that the physicians’ assumptions and views of PAEHR and its consequences for patients were different from the views and actual experiences of patients using the PAEHR system. The physicians were mainly concerned about potential increase in their workload and that it could be harmful for patients to access their Electronic Health Record (EHR), for example, as it might evoke anxiety or worry. The vast majority of patients appreciated timely access to their results, felt more involved in their care, and read their records to become more involved. The investigation of human values associated with PAEHR identiﬁed values such as Ownership & Property, Professional Autonomy, Responsibility, Human Well-Being, Accountability & Transparency, and Trust. Furthermore, value tensions were identiﬁed that may occur between direct and indirect stakeholders (here: patients and physicians), or are related to an interpretation of PAEHR.
This thesis contributes to current research on eHealth in Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) by instigating a critical discussion of values associated with eHealth technologies that might be perceived as conﬂicting given a stakeholder’s framing of the technology. For example, tensions that emerge between values that prioritise placing the responsibility on a physician for their patients versus a value system that prioritises patient autonomy. The ﬁndings of this thesis suggest that while policymakers and government agencies adhere to a system of values that place a premium on patient empowerment, paternalistic tendencies are still present among physicians. However, an eHealth service like PAEHR is an important ﬁrst step towards patient participation. The results of this thesis suggest that the support of patient participation in their own care through PAEHR outweighs the potential harm.