The symbolic affordances of a video-mediated gaze in emergency psychiatry
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Original versionSocial Science and Medicine. 2018, 197 87-94. 10.1016/j.socscimed.2017.11.056
While mental illness is a significant health challenge worldwide, the availability of specialists is limited, especially in rural areas and for psychiatric emergencies. Although tele-psychiatry, via real-time videoconferencing (VC), is used to provide consultative services in areas that lack psychiatrists, there are a paucity of studies on the use of VC for psychiatric emergencies. We examine how VC matters for patient involvement and professional practice in the first Norwegian emergency tele-psychiatric service. Through a decentralised on-call system, psychiatrists are accessible 24/7 by telephone and VC for patients and nurses in regional psychiatry centres. Based on 29 interviews with patients, psychiatrists and nurses, this article addresses how participation is fostered by VC, and how it may change the social dynamics of therapeutic emergency encounters. We identified four contributions of the ‘video-mediated gaze’ in the therapeutic encounter including those of the: (1) immediacy of assessment, (2) increased transparency, (3) sense of access to the ‘real’ expert, and (4) fostering of the patient's ‘voice’ in therapeutic decisions. These VC inflections of the therapeutic encounter are a mix of the pragmatic (1 and 2) and the symbolic (3 and 4), assembling in these contexts to foster patient-centeredness. With a sociological approach to video-conferenced emergency psychiatry, the identification of symbolic affordances adds necessary nuances to the application of new technologies into fragile therapeutic communication.