Accepted Paper:

Enthousiasm and Scepticism regarding Digital Health Technologies: the Promise Trap   


Maria del Rio Carral (University of Lausanne)

Paper short abstract:

The proliferation of digital tools is underpinned by beliefs regarding their potential to improve health. This contribution analyses how this issue appears in research. We show that scientific debates seem trapped in promises raised by digital health and suggest how to surmount this impasse.

Paper long abstract:

The democratisation of « smart » phones and the proliferation of wearable digital tools of self-tracking has become a major issue in the health field nowadays. This rapid and important development seems to be underpinned by strong beliefs regarding the potential of digital technologies in improving strategies for health promotion and the treatment of illness. In this contribution, our aim is to study existing debates in the scientific litterature to identify how these promises appear across current research. To do this, a critical review has been conducted, consisting on an analysis of articles in the fields of social sciences, health sciences and technological sciences. Results reveal two main trends: The first one, which is the mainstream, is defined by its clear enthousiasm towards the use of digital health technologies, convinced about its revolutionary impact to change human behaviour. A second trend, less present in the litterature, shows scepticism towards this enthousiasm by highlighting socioeconomic and political implications such as surveillance and normalisation of practices. However, these trends, either through hopes or through fears, are both « trapped » in a debate based on promised impacts of digital health. On this basis, we argue on the need to surmount the impasse by adopting a critical framework that enables the study of concrete practices related to digital tools, their embeddedness in everyday life, as well as the financial stakes involved in their development. This may constitute an alternative to researchers who aim to contribute to the improvement of health care conditions.

Panel T094
Emerging science and technology : questioning the regime of promising