Saturday, 2 October 2010

Quality assurance and critical theory

A paper by CCSR members Mark Shaw and Bernd Stahl on "On Quality and Communication: The Relevance of Critical Theory to Health Informatics" has been accepted for a forthcoming special issue by the Journal of the Association for Information Systems on: Health Care IT: Process, People and Patients

The Journal of the Association for Information Systems is one of the top six journals in the area of information systems as identified by a group of senior scholars of the AIS.

This is the abstract of the paper:

Health information systems (HIS) require long-term investment before they provide a socio-economic return, yet their implementation remains problematic, possibly because the claims made about them appear not to sit well with healthcare professionals’ practice.
Health informatics should address these issues from a sound conceptual base, such as might be provided by critical theory, which seeks to identify hidden assumptions and ideologies. This discipline can provide a better understanding of the inner workings of socio-technical systems, with a view to improving them through the promotion of emancipation (allowing people to fulfil their potential).
Critical theory can also shed light on the problems with HIS and offer insight into remedies, for example by relating Habermas’ theories about communication to feedback, a concept central to quality assurance (QA). Such analysis finds that QA’s principal practices can be interpreted as emancipatory but requires organisations substantially to change their behaviour.
An alternate approach is to install HIS designed to support QA. Applying critical theory to these systems shows that they could become an active part of care delivery rather than static repositories of data, because they may encourage standardised conversations between all stakeholders about the important features of treatment. Success will depend on access for all participants to data entry and analysis tools, integration with work practice and use by staff and management in QA.
These ideas offer new directions for research into and the development of health information systems. The next step will be to implement and observe their technical and emancipatory properties.