Multilevel structures and human agency in relation to email consultations: A strong structuration theory analysis of the Danish general practice setting

Soc Sci Med. 2021 Jun 19;282:114155. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2021.114155. Online ahead of print.


In recent years and throughout the developed world, policymakers have encouraged the implementation of digital patient-clinician interaction. Our focus is on the Danish general practice setting where email consultations were implemented as a mandatory service in 2009 and now constitute 21% of all consultations in general practice. Drawing upon strong structuration theory (SST), our analysis sets out to explore how email consultations are represented in structures on macro, meso and micro-levels and how the interplay between structures and agents plays out with respect to possible alignments, tensions and adjustments. We analyze data from policy documents on the macro and meso-levels, data from clinics’ websites (meso-level) and data from interviews with GPs and patients (micro-level) (n = 53). Our findings show that the introduction of email consultation as a new health technology is a key site for development in email consultation practice, professional boundary setting and adjustments within the doctor-patient relationship. Our findings thus demonstrate that email consultation can be considered a dynamic component of a socio-technical network rather than a static medium for simple health transactions or information delivery. Based on these findings, we recommend that, for future implementation of patient-clinician digital communication it is important to investigate the multiple sources of influence on telecare practices and to see its intended users as agents who actively shape their own care motivated by opinions, relationships and values.

PMID:34174578 | DOI:10.1016/j.socscimed.2021.114155