Moving beyond 'safety' versus 'autonomy': a qualitative exploration of the ethics of using monitoring technologies in long-term dementia care

Alex Hall, Christine Brown Wilson, Emma Stanmore, Chris Todd

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Use of monitoring technologies (e.g. wearable or environmental sensors) in long-term care generates extensive ethical debate, primarily about their potential to enhance resident safety weighed against concerns about their impacts upon resident autonomy. There are a number of other ethical aspects which are far less debated, including questions about the monitoring of the workforce, and equality of access to technologies. In this paper, we explore the extent to which remote monitoring of the workforce, and equality of access to technologies, were seen to influence the implementation of monitoring technologies within long-term care facilities.
Methods: An embedded multiple-case study design was used with three dementia-specialist care facilities in England that had experience using a range of monitoring technologies. Data were collected through 175 hours’ observation of daily practice, semi-structured interviews with staff, residents and relatives, and examination of organisational documentation and technology manufacturer literature. Data were analysed using Framework Analysis.
Results: Use of technologies for workforce monitoring was understood in relation to the ethical obligations to fulfil a duty of care to residents. There was little recognition of any negative implications for the workforce, but staff were susceptible to rumours that technologies were being used for performance management even when this was not the case. There were questions about how far data collected by monitoring technologies could constitute ‘evidence’ of appropriate care delivery. Equality and access to technologies involved a need to compromise between generic designs that were not universally suitable, but were more affordable than bespoke designs. Contracts with suppliers imposed limitations on product choice.
Conclusions: There is an urgent need for greater consideration of the ethical and legal implications that remote technological monitoring might have upon workforce morale, recruitment and retention. Ensuring variety of technological design to facilitate equitable access for residents is financially extremely challenging. It is possible that considerations of equitable access are not deemed a priority due to the current generation of residents’ low levels of technological familiarity and expectation. It might be overstated and unrealistic to view expensive technologies as the pinnacle of innovative practice in care homes.
Original languageEnglish
Article number145 (2019)
JournalB M C Geriatrics
Publication statusPublished - 24 May 2019


  • ambulatory monitoring
  • assistive technology
  • dementia
  • ethics
  • implementation
  • long-term care
  • qualitative research
  • surveillance


Dive into the research topics of 'Moving beyond 'safety' versus 'autonomy': a qualitative exploration of the ethics of using monitoring technologies in long-term dementia care'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this