Electronic health record as a panopticon: A disciplinary apparatus in nursing practice

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The specific arrangements of power/knowledge that characterize nurse interactions with the electronic health record form a panopticon. As health care moves into the 21st century, sophisticated technologies like the electronic health record shape the terrain of professional possibilities. The longer it is in use, the more it is possible to excavate the inherent disciplinary function of electronic health record. A panopticon is a generalizable, replicable apparatus of power that cultivates discipline when similar behaviours are desired from a group of people. This paper traces the arrangements of power/knowledge that characterize nurse interactions with the electronic health record rooted in a trauma critical care setting. Examining the apparatuses of power/knowledge enforced through panopticism in nursing makes the invisible visible. This in turn enables nurses to address the intended and unintended consequences of the electronic health record. If nurses are to effectively shape the direction of their own futures and the future of health care, nurses will need to unpack the invisible techniques of power such as the electronic health record as a panopticon. In the process of building a visible identity, contextualizing nursing knowledge to better care for patients on the one hand and understand the relationships of power that limit us on the other, nurses are neither apolitical nor powerless. Considering the dialectic of power/knowledge in the healthcare setting helps to illuminate spaces to recharacterize nursing, reveal the contributions and knowledge of nurses, and consolidate the professional power of nurses to affect meaningful change and self-governance in the healthcare setting.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere12239
JournalNursing Philosophy
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 1 2019



  • Foucault
  • control
  • knowledge
  • nursing
  • panopticon
  • power

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Research and Theory
  • Issues, ethics and legal aspects

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