The Curious Case of Transparency: How Patient Portals Empower Physicians

Elmira van den Broek, A. Sergeeva, Marleen Huysman

Research output: Contribution to ConferencePaperAcademic


While increasing public and academic attention is given to transparency of medical records, relatively few studies have approached the use of patient data from the perspective of situated practice. Our observations of 115 patient consultations in oncology surgery department illustrate the different ways in which professionals and patients approach and use personal health data. The physicians are professionally trained to treat data neutrally and flexibly, recognizing the indeterminate nature of test results. The patients, on the other hand, perceive the numbers of their test-results as an objective mirror of their own disease, which makes the constant confrontation with it an emotional event. Our study concludes, that in contrast to the assumed “patient empowerment”, opening up medical records might increase patients’ dependency on their medical professionals, potentially leading to “physician empowerment” instead. Taking a situated perspective on data use helps to illustrate that increased empowerment of patients through transparency might actually be an elusive ideal, and thus highlight the affective and power aspects of transparency technology.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 28 Aug 2017
EventEuropean Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work: Data-work in Healthcare: New roles, tasks and challenges - Sheffield Hallam University, Sheffield, United Kingdom
Duration: 28 Aug 20161 Sept 2016


ConferenceEuropean Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work
Abbreviated titleECSCW 2017
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


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