Talk through IT : Using Common Ground to build Bridges with Weak Ties in the Design of Online Psychosocial Support

Abstract: There is growing interest in applying information and communication technology (ICT) in healthcare. The attention to ICT stems from several factors: costs of healthcare, high prevalence of somatic diseases, longer life expectancy and technological advancements. The quest to meet the growing healthcare needs has led authorities to allocate resources to develop technological solutions. Although this research investment is helpful for the information technology sector, these projects face challenges in working with multidisciplinary teams, recruiting participants and moving research to practice. This dissertation investigates the potential of ICT use in psychosocial support communication designed for people with emotional distress associated with a somatic disease (PEDASDs). The research aims to deliver design principles (DPs) for these ICTs, for three stakeholder groups: nurses, therapists and PEDASDs. The DPs focus on communication between these stakeholder groups and not on the overall ICT design. An interpretative approach was adopted to investigate the stakeholders’ unique ICT requirements. This method allows insights into the stakeholder’s world. Three studies, using semi-structured interviews, at oncology facilities in two healthcare system models (Trinidad & Tobago and Sweden), provide the empirical data. The stakeholders revealed not only their communication support needs but also other issues including the practical distresses of living with a chronic disease, limited support, lack of information, unwillingness to associate with other PEDASDs, professionalism between healthcare providers and disconnected healthcare services. Common ground, bridges and weak ties provide the theoretical framework to explore the findings. Eight DPs emerged from the studies: the healthcare system model, need to educate the stakeholders, ICT customisation, support of stakeholders’ information needs, allow access to external resources, support multidisciplinary team communication, support for self-care and support for significant others. The findings could potentially serve as a guide for ICT projects that develop artefacts for psychosocial support and provide a theoretically grounded understanding of stakeholder communication and relationships. The potential for future work includes investigating the issues of legislation and ethics, studying the needs of significant others, exploring the potential for ICTs in other healthcare system models (particularly the out-of-pocket health system) and examining the impact of social media on psychosocial support.