How Women Use Digital Technologies for Health: Qualitative Interview and Focus Group Study

Deborah LUPTON, Sarah MASLEN

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

64 Citations (Scopus)
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Background: A range of digital technologies are available to lay people to find, share, and generate health-related information. Few studies have directed attention specifically to how women are using these technologies from the diverse array available to them. Even fewer have focused on Australian women’s use of digital health. Objective: The Australian Women and Digital Health Project aimed to investigate which types of digital technologies women used regularly for health-related purposes and which they found most helpful and useful. Qualitative methods—semistructured interviews and focus groups—were employed to shed light on the situated complexities of the participants’ enactments of digital health technologies. The project adopted a feminist new materialism theoretical perspective, focusing on the affordances, relational connections, and affective forces that came together to open up or close off the agential capacities generated with and through these enactments. Methods: The project comprised two separate studies including a total of 66 women. In study 1, 36 women living in the city of Canberra took part in face-to-face interviews and focus groups, while study 2 involved telephone interviews with 30 women from other areas of Australia. Results: The affordances of search engines to locate health information and websites and social media platforms for providing information and peer support were highly used and valued. Affective forces such as the desire for trust, motivation, empowerment, reassurance, control, care, and connection emerged in the participants’ accounts. Agential capacities generated with and through digital health technologies included the capacity to seek and generate information and create a better sense of knowledge and expertise about bodies, illness, and health care, including the women’s own bodies and health, that of their families and friends, and that of their often anonymous online social networks. The participants referred time and again to appreciating the feelings of agency and control that using digital health technologies afforded them. When the technologies failed to work as expected, these agential capacities were not realized. Women responded with feelings of frustration, disappointment, and annoyance, leading them to become disenchanted with the possibilities of the digital technologies they had tried. Conclusions: The findings demonstrate the nuanced and complex ways in which the participants were engaging with and contributing to online sources of information and using these sources together with face-to-face encounters with doctors and other health care professionals and friends and family members. They highlight the lay forms of expertise that the women had developed in finding, assessing, and creating health knowledges. The study also emphasized the key role that many women play in providing advice and health care for family members not only as digitally engaged patients but also as digitally engaged carers. [J Med Internet Res 2019;21(1):e11481]
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere11481
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Medical Internet Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 25 Jan 2019


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