Dr. Lora Arduser on Medical Wearables and Patient Agency

Monday, April 3, 2017 - 8:15pm

On March 31, the Wearables Research Collaboratory hosted a Skype talk with Dr. Lora Arduser, a researcher studying the relationship between medical wearables and patient agency.

Dr. Arduser opened with some background on her interest in the rhetoric of health and medicine and medical wearables more specifically. Her interest in medical wearables started with research for her recently published book, Living Chronic: Agency and Expertise in the Rhetoric of Diabetes, which examines the discourse of both people with diabetes and health care providers. This research highlights the disconnect between these discourses—a disconnect that limits agency—and argues for an alternative model of patient agency.

In the book and her more recent research, Arduser draws in part on data collected from online discourse communities of people with diabetes and parents of children with type 1 diabetes seeking to improve medical wearables by "hacking" them. Many patients with diabetes use insulin pumps and continuous glucose monitors (CGMs) to help manage their condition. Some patients and their families have chosen to "fast-track" features into CGMs—for example, the ability to pair them with a smartphone—by "hacking" the software on their devices. Such features may be added by device manufacturers in the future, but the early "hacked" abilities often come to be in what Dr. Arduser thinks of as "online maker spaces." In chapter 3 of her book, she writes that "diabetics ... act much like makers in maker spaces. They are inventors, designs, and tinkerers. Maker spaces, like group patient appointment spaces and online patient communities, are creative spaces in which people gather to create, invent, and learn" (p. 100). In these spaces, she argues, agency and meaning-making are happening.

In her work, Dr. Arduser confronts questions that continue to shape her identity as a scholar and her understanding of technical communication. As she's studied communication in diabetes online communities, she's considered literacies, the blurring of lines between user and technical communicator, and the importance of user advocacy in technical communication. She thinks of Miles Kimball's statement in "The Golden Age of Technical Communication": that, in the present, "[w]e are all technical communicators," engaged in the practice not merely for institutional or strategic reasons, but for the purpose of assisting other users and demonstrating technologies to one another.

As we study wearable technologies and their relationship to human communication, we talk to researchers like Dr. Arduser to learn about their work and tell them about ours. This openness and collegiality offer benefits to everyone involved; it's an ethos of collaboration that's very important to us.

Dr. Arduser is an assistant professor and director of the professional writing program at the University of Cincinnati. She holds a PhD in technical communication and rhetoric from Texas Tech University. Among other groups, she is active in the Rhetoricians of Health and Medicine.

This entry was written by Jeremy Rosselot-Merritt.