Conceptualizing ‘role’ in patient-engaging e-health: A cross-disciplinary review of the literature


  • Henriette Langstrup University of Copenhagen
  • Anja Elkjær Rahbek Aarhus University



cross-disciplinary literature review, health professionals, patient-engaging e-health, patients, social roles


Patient-engaging eHealth is promoted as a means to improve care and change the social order of healthcare – most notably the roles of patients and healthcare professionals. Nevertheless, while researchers across various fields expect and praise such changes, these social aspects are rarely addressed rigorously in the literature on the effects of eHealth. In this paper we review the scientific literature on patient-engaging eHealth with the purpose of articulating the different ways in which role is conceptualized in the different strands of literature and what explicit and implicit assumptions such conceptualizations entail. We identify three different conceptualizations of the concept of role and exemplify the findings proposed by the studies that apply each of the three conceptualizations. We hereby argue that such conceptual differences have implications for what is found to be at stake when using eHealth to further the involvement of patients in their own care. We argue that a more rigorous and reflective approach to the use of concepts with rich intellectual histories such as the concept of role will qualify both empirical research in eHealth as well as discussions of implications for practice.

Author Biographies

Henriette Langstrup, University of Copenhagen

Henriette Langstrup is associate Professor at the Centre for Medical Science and Technology Studies, and Head of Section of Health Services research at the Department of Public Health, university of Copenhagen. Her research focuses on qualitative and ethnographic explorations of health-IT and user practices in the area of chronic care management.

Anja Elkjær Rahbek, Aarhus University

Anja Elkjær Rahbek holds a Masters in anthropology from the university of Copenhagen and is currently a research assistant at the research unit for general Practice at aarhus university.


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How to Cite

Langstrup, H., & Rahbek, A. E. (2016). Conceptualizing ‘role’ in patient-engaging e-health: A cross-disciplinary review of the literature. Communication and Medicine, 12(2-3), 129–143.