Actor-Network-Theory in Medical E-Communication: The Role of Websites in Creating and Maintaining Healthcare Corporate Online Identity

Actor-Network-Theory in Medical E-Communication: The Role of Websites in Creating and Maintaining Healthcare Corporate Online Identity

Magdalena Bielenia-Grajewska (University of Gdansk, Poland)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-2166-4.ch013
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In this article, an attempt will be made to discuss how websites create and maintain the online identity of medical care providers. To discuss this issue in greater detail, the author has chosen Actor-Network-Theory since an ANT approach makes it possible to study the role of living and nonliving entities in shaping the online identity of healthcare suppliers and to concentrate on the networks and systems within e-healthcare as well as the flows and interrelations constituting it. The primary aim of this research is to show the communicative aspect of healthcare corporate websites by using the selected notions of ANT methodology and their potential implications for corporate identity creation and maintenance.
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Modern reality is shaped by some complicated nets built of various entities and ties (Blommaert, 2010) and it is determined by the dependence on other human beings (Laszlo, 2001). Thus, the modern world is a networked entity (e.g., Castells, 2009; Corallo, 2007; Hardt & Negri, 2004) and its interconnectedness is represented in various domains of life, including the networked economy (Aurik, Jonk, & Willen, 2003). For example, modern business, with its grids and lattices, can be observed on the organizational level. Since modern companies do not exist in a vacuum, but are rather connected with other entities on an everyday basis, the organization and its relations can be viewed through the prism of networks and ecosystems (Andrew & Sirkin, 2006; Davenport, Leibold, & Voelpel, 2006). The multispectral character of corporations is also reflected in their identities which are constituted of multiple personalities (e.g., Bergen & Braithwaite, 2009), of both individual and social types. Among various factors shaping the networked organizational identity it is technology which is the most important one (e.g., Carr, 2004; Fernandez, 2004; O’Kane, Hargie, & Tourish, 2004). The revolution in communication and technological achievements have changed the way companies function and communicate, with technologically sophisticated codes, wires and pulsations being an important part of modern corporate life (Birkets, 2010). The coexistence of technology with other aspects of corporate reality makes it difficult to establish the demarcation line between the human and the technological world (Bukatman, 2002). Some go even further and state that information technologies are starting to become part of our bodies and function as prosthetic technologies that take over or augment biological functions, turning humans into cyborgs, and thereby altering human nature (Brey & Søraker, 2009, p. 1388). Human and nonhuman entities mutually contribute e.g. to information networks (e.g., Masuda, 1983) such as the ones available on the Internet. Since they are online everywhere and anywhere (Richardson, 2005, p. 272), the same applies to the activities related to healthcare which will be discussed in the coming sections. The Internet determines the patient-doctor relation in a number of ways, being a source of information, a community creator, a communication tool and a new technology facilitator, introducing e.g. telemedicine (McLellan, 2004). Since one of the most popular levels of analyzing health discourse is mass communication (Schulz, 2006), in this research an attempt will be made to show that websites are not only the places of putting information on the services offered by the healthcare company and the instruments of health information and disease prevention for many patients, but they also determine personalities of those interested in health issues. At the same time, e-patients (Akerkar & Bichile, 2004) influence the corporate online identity of healthcare providers.

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