“Doctor Smartphone”: A Dispositive Analysis of the Norwegian Press's Presentation of M-Health Applications

“Doctor Smartphone”: A Dispositive Analysis of the Norwegian Press's Presentation of M-Health Applications

Margaret Machniak Sommervold (University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway)
DOI: 10.4018/IJSKD.2016010101


The rapid growth in the field of m-health has not gone unnoticed by the mainstream media in Norway. Norwegian newspapers have a strong presence and outreach and hence play an important role in shaping of the public discourse on various subjects with m-health being no exception. This article presents a Dispositive Analysis of 23 articles from 6 national newspapers concerning mobile health applications. The analysis resulted in an interpretation of the press's technology views as theories of technology, which informed the discussion in this paper. Further, the newspaper articles were understood as discursive practices and analyzed by applying the concept of dispositives. The results of the analysis suggest inclusion of Dispositive Analysis as a step in Participatory Design process as means of enriching the design practices as well as uncovering the marginalized ‘voices' and thus addressing the call for democratization of technology.
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In 2011, Liu et al. (2011) argued that “it is widely expected that m-health will become increasingly important in e-health” (ibid., p. 2022). While electronic health, commonly referred to as e-health refers to software aimed at supporting electronic healthcare practices, mobile health applications or m-health is an umbrella term that encompasses networking, mobile computing, medical sensors and other communication technologies within healthcare (ibid.). The terms e-health and m-health cover technologies aimed at supporting both healthcare professionals and patients; Technologies can support professionals in delivering or performing healthcare or they can be centered on the tasks connected to the health-seeker role. The field of e-health is also witnessing a development within technologies that facilitate communication between healthcare professionals and health-seekers. The features of m-health technologies, and especially mobile phones, such as their size, portability, ability to wirelessly transfer and receive information, and the sensors which can be applied to track, measure, and translate everyday activities into information, give these technologies an advantage over other information and communication technologies (ICTs) (Free et al., 2013). Klasnja and Pratt (2014) argue that the use of mobile phones for delivering health interventions is especially promising due to the widespread adoption of mobile phones in the general public and people’s tendency to carry them around with them at all times.

The current academic discourse, including publications, presentations, and research themes, presents a fairly nuanced picture of the field of m-health. On one hand, m-health applications are presented as promising for bridging the gaps in existing healthcare services and supporting patients in managing their health and condition. M-health applications are argued to hold the potential to better the care services, increase efficiency, and empower patients. On the other hand, an ongoing debate challenges this view by pointing out the many challenges and shortcomings these technologies entail and bring into our society and practices. Questions are raised around the lack of quality assurance, evidence-based results to support the claims of better health outcomes for the patients, and the missing descriptions of the design processes and interests behind the various initiatives. By consuming and contributing to the academic discourse, scholars within the field of m-health are aware of the limitations and challenges that health applications are facing. However, as argued by Strano and Canter (2014), non-academics do not turn to academic discourse when looking for information on a topic, but rather allow media norms and practices to filter the information, and consequently their world view.

More than 60% of the Norwegian population reads newspapers. Despite the availability of most of the Norwegian newspapers online, 2.6 million people above the age of 12 read a paper-based newspaper every day in 2014 (Mediebedriftene, 2014). The strong presence and reach of newspapers in Norway indicates that newspapers represent a significant share of the public discourse on various subjects. The booming development and growing numbers of health applications has not gone unnoticed and led to significant coverage of e- and m-Health in the Norwegian newspapers over the last few years. Because of the major role newspaper articles play in contributing to and shaping public discourse, this paper investigates the discourse surrounding m-health applications in six major newspapers in Norway by applying Critical Discourse Analysis.

Acknowledging the Critical Discourse Analysis’ avoidance of deterministic relations between the social and the discourse, which will be explained in the next section, this article does not offer predictions about the future of m-health and society, nor does it explain how the discourse presented by the media contributes to the current use of m-health applications. The contribution lies within the critique, or rather “making visible the interconnectedness of things” (Fairclough 1985, p. 747) and a proposition of what political actions can be made in light of this critique.

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