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Commun Med. 2007;4(2):165-75.

Whiteboards: mediating professional tensions in clinical practice.

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University of Melbourne, Australia.


In this paper we argue that whiteboards in clinical settings play a hybrid role: communicating inter- and intraprofessional directives, mediating professional tensions, and mitigating potentially face-threatening acts. The data upon which this paper is based emanate from two independently conducted ethnographic studies: the first explored a range of nurse-nurse and nurse-doctor communication practices in operating rooms, while the second explored work routines and communication methods in oncology wards. Data collection included fieldwork using observations, interviews assisted by photographic methods, and in the first study, a personal diary. A deconstructive analysis was independently undertaken. As a communication method, the use of whiteboards in clinical settings provided a focal point for the coordination of clinical work activities and for the dissemination of information to large groups of people. Whiteboards were a conduit for potentially face-threatening information in that they facilitated the policing and disciplining of staff, while distancing communicators from one another. We conclude that whiteboards are 'pseudo-synchronous' in nature, enabling 'communication at a distance'. In doing so, whiteboards may facilitate and economize clinical communication but they also perpetuate the invisibility of nurses' contribution to ensuring safe care, and they mask the symbolic violence that is committed within and between health professionals.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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