Vigilance & Invisibility : Care in technologically intense environments

Abstract: This thesis focuses on the relationship between technology and caring in technologically intense environments. The overall aim was to uncover the meaning of care in those environments as experienced by patients and caregivers. Moreover, the study aimed at finding a deeper understanding for the almost total dominance of technology in care in intensive care. The thesis includes three empirical studies and one theoretical, philosophical study. The research was guided by a phenomenological and lifeworld theoretical approach. Research data consist of quantitative parameters and qualitative interviews with caregivers and patients. Data was analysed and synthesised with aim of seeking meaning through openness, sensitivity and a reflective attitude. The goal was to reach the general structure of the phenomenon and its meaning constituents. The result shows that an intensive care unit is a cognitive and emotionally complex environment where caregivers are juggling a precarious handful of cards. Despite being constantly monitored and observed, intensive care patients express that they feel invisible. The patient and the apparatus easily meld into a unit, one item to be regulated and read. From the patients’ perspective, caregivers demonstrate keen vigilance over technological devices and measured parameters, but pay scant attention to their stories and experiences. Technology, with its exciting captive lure and challenging character, seduces the caregivers and lulls them into a fictive sense of security and safety. Technical tasks take precedence or have more urgency than caring behaviour. A malaise settles on caregivers as they strive for garnering the security that technology promises. Yet simultaneously, insecurity creeps in as they read the patient’s biological data. Technical tasks take precedence over and seemingly are more urgent than showing care. Listening, inspiring trust, and promoting confidence no longer have high priority. Trying to communicate ‘through’ technology is so complex, that it is a difficult challenge to keep in perspective what or who is the focus; ‘seeing’ or caring. Technology should be like a catalyst; do its ‘thing’ and withdraw ‘unnoticed’. This thesis has contributed in gaining deeper knowledge about care in technologically intense environments and the impact of technology. The main contribution is that caregivers need to be aware that the roar of technology silences the subtle attempts of the critically ill or injured person to give voice to his or her needs. In conclusion, the challenges for caregivers are to distinguish when to heighten the importance of the objective and measurable dimensions provided by technology and when to reduce their importance. In order to magnify the patients’ lived experiences. It is a question of balancing state-of-the-art technology with integrative and comprehensive care, of harmonizing the demands of subjectivity with objective signs.