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Caring For Numbers: Performing Healthcare Practices through Performance Metrics in Sweden and the Netherlands

Worlds of Rankings

ISBN: 978-1-80117-106-9, eISBN: 978-1-80117-105-2

Publication date: 22 July 2021


Performance metrics have become widely used and much lamented – about tools for measuring healthcare quality. In this paper, the authors reflect on the development and use of performance metrics in healthcare regulation and clinical practice. Studying multi-actor settings of performance measurement systems in healthcare in Sweden and the Netherlands, the authors show how regulatory agencies (i.e., the inspectorate and national registries), patients, hospitals, and practitioners engage in the constitution of healthcare practices through developing performance indicators that form the input for ranking, ensuing intensive dialogues on what should be measured and accounted for, and to what effects. The authors analyze this process as caring for numbers. The authors discern two practices of caring for numbers: validating and contexting. Validating refers to the practices of making numbers reflect those practices they intend to depict; contexting is about how with the use of numbers specific contexts of healthcare are built. These processes together emphasize the performative character of numbers as well as the reflexive uses of performativity. The paper shows how collaborative and rather pragmatic practices of caring for numbers co-construct specific practices of healthcare. Though this reflexive entanglement of production and use of numbers actors not only constitute specific performance metrics and ranking practices but also perform healthcare.



Wallenburg, I., Essén, A. and Bal, R. (2021), "Caring For Numbers: Performing Healthcare Practices through Performance Metrics in Sweden and the Netherlands", Ringel, L., Espeland, W., Sauder, M. and Werron, T. (Ed.) Worlds of Rankings (Research in the Sociology of Organizations, Vol. 74), Emerald Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 153-172.



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