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  • What's in a care pathway? Towards a cultural cartography of the new NHS.

    2 November 2018

    Maps are increasingly understood as socio-cultural and political constructs, rather than mirrors of nature. Drawing on the insights of cultural cartographers, this paper presents a critical analysis of a specific instance of map-making in health policy, namely the growing use of care pathways in care planning and service delivery. Widely regarded to date as devices for ensuring quality of care, equity of treatment, optimal resource allocation and a rational division of labour between healthcare professionals, they have been seen as helpful--and technically neutral--tools for routing patients through the system. By contrast, we argue that the metaphors are misleading: lived experience and its objectification in pathway maps continually re-create one another, as we explore the slippage between map, map-making and mapping. This paper is based on interviews and observations with a variety of healthcare workers in three areas of south eastern England. We trace the development of a series of pathways-in-process, and show how they configure the patient, highlighting some aspects of their experiences, whilst silencing others. We also analyse the role of pathways in the carving up and surveillance of space round the emergence of the 'hybrid professional', particularly new practitioners such as GP specialists, specialist nurses, extended scope therapists and others. In considering the wider implications of care pathways as part of the contemporary discourse on policy, the paper critiques the rationalist, and sometimes evangelical assumptions underpinning their current popularity. In particular, we suggest that a critical and processual understanding of pathways might contribute to a more informed appreciation of their potential (and their limitations) as mechanisms for healthcare policy implementation.

  • A double-edged sword? Health research and research governance in UK primary care.

    2 November 2018

    Contemporary health research is becoming increasingly formalised, regulated and institutionalised. In the UK, this has manifested itself in the development of a framework for 'governing' health research. The framework is often presented as a neutral decision-making tool guiding elements of research (such as ethical and peer review) through formal governance processes and approval procedures. We locate the framework as emerging in the wider context of the growth of 'guidelines' in healthcare that raises questions about the extent to which formal rationality has taken hold on knowledge production and what this means for health research. We therefore explore if and how the framework prioritises particular approaches to the production of knowledge and the tensions that emerge between managerial requirements and the work of researchers. We employed qualitative telephone interviews to access the accounts of both researchers and administrators across a range of primary healthcare settings in England and to capture a range of experiences and levels of involvement in research and governance. Our analysis revealed the double-edged nature of research governance: on the one hand, the framework provided a valuable aid to decision-making and the formalisation of tacit knowledge about 'good research practice'; on the other, consequent managerial processes engaged researchers in a series of low-level activities and privileged particular ways of viewing the world. Our findings add to existing knowledge by moving beyond documenting concerns over research governance and show how the reduction of research governance according to a 'common' set of principles and procedures facilitates the production (and managerial oversight) of quantitative and clinical, over qualitative and experiential, knowledge.

  • Evaluation of an interactive educational tool for primary care researchers.

    2 November 2018

    This paper describes an evaluation of a computer-assisted learning (CAL) resource for primary care researchers. A two-phase approach was adopted involving a questionnaire survey and follow-up telephone interviews with a purposive sample of respondents. Results indicate wide support for this approach to self-directed learning, particularly for those with less experience. Respondents emphasized the flexibility and accessibility of the resource, with Internet links encouraging users to branch out. Potential barriers included securing protected learning time and lack of interaction with peers.