Colloquium: Casey Pierce (U. Michigan)


Date/Time/Location: Tuesday, 2018.11.13, 1:15-2:30pm, UTA 5.522


Bringing the gig economy to healthcare: Examining how telemental health care technology and policy impact online therapists’ work practices


Approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. experience a mental health condition. However, reports predict by 2025 the demand will outpace the supply of mental health professionals leaving millions without care. To address these concerns, research suggests telemental health, that is, using communication technology to provide care at a distance, can help deliver timely, cost-effective care to those in need. Although research suggests promising outcomes for patients using telemental health, we know little about how telehealth affects the therapists who deliver care. Specifically, a growing number of direct-to-consumer telemental health companies (e.g., TalkSpace, BetterHelp) are changing how therapists interact with their patients through video conferencing and SMS text messaging features instead of conventional, in-person counseling sessions. Additionally, such telehealth companies hire therapists as independent contractors rather than employees and allocate work to them as online “gigs.”

In this presentation, I discuss how direct-to-consumer telemental health services and policies create new work arrangements and expectations for therapists. I report on findings from interviews with online therapists and an analysis of current U.S. telehealth legislation. Informed by actor-network theory and a sociomaterial perspective, I explain how online therapists reconcile discrepancies between their identities as care providers, telehealth policies and what the technology affords them the ability to do. Finally, I conclude by addressing the ethical implications in bringing the gig economy to telemental health care.


Casey Pierce is an Assistant Professor in the School of Information at the University of Michigan. Her research focuses on how technology influences knowledge sharing and work practices across geographic and occupational boundaries. In this line of research, she has examined social media use in organizations, technology implementation during a federal policy change, and offshoring work arrangements. Currently, Casey is studying how telehealth impacts clinicians’ work practices and healthcare policies. Her work has received awards from the International Communication Association and Academy of Management. Casey earned her Ph.D. from the Media, Technology, and Society program at Northwestern University School of Communication. She also received her B.A. and M.A. from the University of Southern California.

Casey Pierce (U. Michigan)


1:15pm to 2:30pm


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