Article Text

The organising vision for telehealth and telecare: discourse analysis
  1. Trisha Greenhalgh1,
  2. Rob Procter2,
  3. Joe Wherton1,
  4. Paul Sugarhood3,
  5. Sara Shaw1
  1. 1Centre for Primary Care and Public Health, Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry, Queen Mary University of London, London, UK
  2. 2Manchester e-Research Centre, University of Manchester, Manchester, UK
  3. 3Barts Health NHS Trust, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Professor Dr Trisha Greenhalgh; p.greenhalgh{at}


Objective To (1) map how different stakeholders understand telehealth and telecare technologies and (2) explore the implications for development and implementation of telehealth and telecare services.

Design Discourse analysis.

Sample 68 publications representing diverse perspectives (academic, policy, service, commercial and lay) on telehealth and telecare plus field notes from 10 knowledge-sharing events.

Method Following a familiarisation phase (browsing and informal interviews), we studied a systematic sample of texts in detail. Through repeated close reading, we identified assumptions, metaphors, storylines, scenarios, practices and rhetorical positions. We added successive findings to an emerging picture of the whole.

Main findings Telehealth and telecare technologies featured prominently in texts on chronic illness and ageing. There was no coherent organising vision. Rather, four conflicting discourses were evident and engaged only minimally with one another's arguments. Modernist discourse presented a futuristic utopian vision in which assistive technologies, implemented at scale, would enable society to meet its moral obligations to older people by creating a safe ‘smart’ home environment where help was always at hand, while generating efficiency savings. Humanist discourse emphasised the uniqueness and moral worth of the individual and tailoring to personal and family context; it considered that technologies were only sometimes fit for purpose and could create as well as solve problems. Political economy discourse envisaged a techno-economic complex of powerful vested interests driving commodification of healthcare and diversion of public funds into private business. Change management discourse recognised the complicatedness of large-scale technology programmes and emphasised good project management and organisational processes.

Conclusion Introduction of telehealth and telecare is hampered because different stakeholders hold different assumptions, values and world views, ‘talk past’ each other and compete for recognition and resources. If investments in these technologies are to bear fruit, more effective inter-stakeholder dialogue must occur to establish an organising vision that better accommodates competing discourses.

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial License, which permits use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, the use is non commercial and is otherwise in compliance with the license. See: and

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  • To cite: Greenhalgh T, Procter R, Wherton J, et al. The organising vision for telehealth and telecare: discourse analysis. BMJ Open 2012;2:e001574. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2012-001574

  • Contributors TG conceptualised the study, led the data analysis and wrote the paper with input from all other authors. RP, JW and PS conducted interviews, made field notes and contributed to data analysis. SS provided theoretical and methodological expertise. All authors checked the final version of the manuscript.

  • Funding This study was funded by the Technology Strategy Board (see methods section).

  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data sharing statement The texts used for this analysis are listed in the online appendix. Most are publicly available documents. Deidentified empirical data will be available from the authors once the ATHENE study is complete.