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Using and choosing digital health technologies: a communications science perspective

John Ovretveit (LIME/MMC, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden)
Albert Wu (Department of Health Policy and Management, Bloomberg School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland, USA)
Richard Street (Department of Communication, Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas, USA) (Department of Medicine, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas, USA)
Harold Thimbleby (College of Science, Swansea University, Swansea, UK)
Friederike Thilo (Department of Applied Research and Development in Nursing, Health Division, Bern University of Applied Sciences, Bern, Switzerland)
Annegret Hannawa (Center for the Advancement of Healthcare Quality and Patient Safety (CAHQS), Faculty of Communication Sciences, Università della Svizzera italiana (USI), Lugano, Switzerland)

Journal of Health Organization and Management

ISSN: 1477-7266

Article publication date: 20 March 2017




The purpose of this paper is to explore a non-technical overview for leaders and researchers about how to use a communications perspective to better assess, design and use digital health technologies (DHTs) to improve healthcare performance and to encourage more research into implementation and use of these technologies.


Narrative overview, showing through examples the issues and benefits of introducing DHTs for healthcare performance and the insights that communications science brings to their design and use.


Communications research has revealed the many ways in which people communicate in non-verbal ways, and how this can be lost or degraded in digitally mediated forms. These losses are often not recognized, can increase risks to patients and reduce staff satisfaction. Yet digital technologies also contribute to improving healthcare performance and staff morale if skillfully designed and implemented.

Research limitations/implications

Researchers are provided with an introduction to the limitations of the research and to how communications science can contribute to a multidisciplinary research approach to evaluating and assisting the implementation of these technologies to improve healthcare performance.

Practical implications

Using this overview, managers are more able to ask questions about how the new DHTs will affect healthcare and take a stronger role in implementing these technologies to improve performance.


New insights into the use and understanding of DHTs from applying the new multidiscipline of communications science. A situated communications perspective helps to assess how a new technology can complement rather than degrade professional relationships and how safer implementation and use of these technologies can be devised.



This paper has been produced within a research framework developed by the ISCOME Global Center for the Advancement of Communication Science in Healthcare to explore and promote the contribution of communication science to improve patient safety and quality care worldwide.


Ovretveit, J., Wu, A., Street, R., Thimbleby, H., Thilo, F. and Hannawa, A. (2017), "Using and choosing digital health technologies: a communications science perspective", Journal of Health Organization and Management, Vol. 31 No. 1, pp. 28-37.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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