Dismembering organisation: The coordination of algorithmic work in healthcare

Simon Bailey, Dean Pierides, Adam Brisley, Clara Weisshaar, Tom Blakeman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Algorithms are increasingly being adopted in healthcare settings, promising increased safety, productivity and efficiency. The growing sociological literature on algorithms in healthcare shares an assumption that algorithms are introduced to ‘support’ decisions within an interactive order that is predominantly human-oriented. This article presents a different argument, calling attention to the manner in which organisations can end up introducing a non-negotiable disjuncture between human-initiated care work and work that supports algorithms, which the authors call algorithmic work. Drawing on an ethnographic study, the authors describe how two hospitals in England implemented an Acute Kidney Injury (AKI) algorithm and analyse ‘interruptions’ to the algorithm’s expected performance. When the coordination of algorithmic work occludes care work, the study finds a ‘dismembered’ organisation that is algorithmically-oriented rather than human-oriented. In the discussion, the authors examine the consequences of coordinating human and non-human work in each hospital and conclude by urging sociologists of organisation to attend to the importance of the formal in algorithmic work. As the use of algorithms becomes widespread, the analysis provides insight into how organisations outside of healthcare can also end up severing tasks from human experience when algorithmic automation is introduced.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)546-571
Number of pages26
JournalCurrent Sociology
Volume68
Issue number4
Early online date10 Mar 2020
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2020

Keywords

  • algorithms
  • coordination
  • healthcare
  • just-in-time
  • organisation
  • work

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