Technology meets tradition: the perceived impact of the introduction of information and communication technology on ward rounds in the intensive care unit

Jennifer J. Plumb*, Isla Hains, Michael J. Parr, David Milliss, Robert Herkes, Johanna I. Westbrook

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Public policy in many health systems is currently dominated by the quest to find ways to ‘do more with less’—to achieve better outcomes at a reduced cost. The success or failure of initiatives in support of this quest are often understood in terms of an adversarial dynamic or struggle between the professional logics of medicine and of management. Here, we use the case of the introduction of information and communication technology (ICT) to a well-established ritual of medical autonomy (the medical ward round) to articulate a more nuanced explanation of how and why new ways of working with technology are accepted and adopted (or not). 

Methods: The study was conducted across four intensive care units (ICUs) in major teaching hospitals in Sydney, Australia. Using interviews, we examined 48 doctors’ perceptions of the impact of ICT on ward round practice. We applied the concept of institutional logics to frame our analysis. Interview transcripts were analysed using a hybrid of deductive and inductive thematic analysis. 

Results: The doctors displayed a complex engagement with the technology that belies simplistic characterisations of medical rejection of managerial encroachment. In fact, they selectively welcomed into the ward round aspects of the technology which reinforced the doctor's place in the healthcare hierarchy and which augmented their role as scientists. At the same time, they guarded against allowing managerial logic embedded in ICT to de-emphasise their embodied subjectivity in relation to the patient as a person rather than as a collection of parameters. 

Conclusion: ICT can force the disruption of some aspects of existing routines, even where these are long-established rituals. Resistance arose when the new technology did not fit with the ‘logic of care’. Incorporation of the logic of care into the design and customisation of clinical information systems is a challenge and potentially counterproductive, because it could attempt to apply a technological fix to what is essentially a social problem. However, there are significant opportunities to ensure that new technologies do not obstruct doctors’ roles as carers nor disrupt the embodied relationship they need to have with patients.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)49-58
Number of pages10
JournalInternational Journal of Medical Informatics
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2017


  • Electronic health records
  • ICT
  • Institutional logics
  • Intensive care unit
  • Ward round
  • Work practices


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