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© 2017, © Emerald Publishing Limited. Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to explore the human work entailed in the deployment of digital health care technology. It draws on imagined configurations of computers and machines in fiction and social science to think about the relationship between technology and people, and why this makes implementation of digital technology so difficult. The term hubots is employed as a metaphorical device to examine how machines and humans come together to do the work of healthcare. Design/methodology/approach: This paper uses the fictional depiction of hubots to reconceptualise the deployment of a particular technology – a computer decision support system (CDSS) used in emergency and urgent care services. Data from two ethnographic studies are reanalysed to explore the deployment of digital technologies in health services. These studies used comparative mixed-methods case study approaches to examine the use of the CDSS in eight different English NHS settings. The data include approximately 900 hours of observation, with 64 semi-structured interviews, 47 focus groups, and surveys of some 700 staff in call centres and urgent care centres. The paper reanalyses these data, deductively, using the metaphor of the hubot as an analytical device. Findings: This paper focuses on the interconnected but paradoxical features of both the fictional hubots and the CDSS. Health care call handling using a CDSS has created a new occupation, and enabled the substitution of some clinical labour. However, at the same time, the introduction of the technology has created additional work. There are more tasks, both physical and emotional, and more training activity is required. Thus, the labour has been intensified. Practical implications: This paper implies that if we want to realise the promise of digital health care technologies, we need to understand that these technologies substitute for and intensify labour. Originality/value: This is a novel analysis using a metaphor drawn from fiction. This allows the authors to recognise the human effort required to implement digital technologies.

Original publication




Journal article


Journal of Health, Organisation and Management

Publication Date





556 - 566