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Ellen Balka

ACTION for Health internationally recognized

November 27, 2008

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Earlier this year, communication professor Ellen Balka and her international research team completed a mammoth four-year project, ACTION for Health, which investigated the challenges of computerizing the health-services industry.

In October, the project received an Artful Integrators award from Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility. The award recognizes outstanding achievement in the area of participatory design for information and communications technologies as well as the research team’s continuity and commitment, and the range of its participants and partnerships.

Among the project’s many initiatives were a study of B.C.’s Healthguide website; a collaboration with a major Vancouver hospital to introduce a new process for implementing technology; and a pilot project with a community health centre to learn how patients search for online health information.

Project outcomes included two books, hundreds of published papers and numerous meetings to discuss findings with health-services decision-makers across the country. While both technology and the health-services environment changed significantly over the project’s term, Balka says high information-technology (IT) failure rates in the health sector remain all too common.

"Hopefully, we’ve explained why some of these failures exist and where expenditures may be appropriate beyond hardware and software," Balka says. "We are confident that highlighting the extent to which social and political contexts play a role in healthcare IT will improve the success of future implementations."

More kudos came this month at the Bi-Annual Computer Supported Cooperative Work Conference, which awarded Balka and colleagues Pernille Bjorn (a former SFU post-doctoral fellow) and Ina Wagner of the Vienna University of Technology a best-paper award for "Steps Toward a Typology for Health Informatics". The paper drew on ethnographic case studies, conducted in six health-care settings in two countries, which identified possible sources of variation in health-care work practices that can affect IT systems implementation.

ACTION for Health was funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada through the Initiative for a New Economy Collaborative Research Imitative funding program.

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