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Keywords:

  • decision-making;
  • empirical research report;
  • knowledge work;
  • leadership;
  • midwifery;
  • nursing knowledge;
  • online discussion forum

Aim.  This paper reports a study to answer the following question: if given a user-friendly online system, that enabled communication across the practice community, would midwives function as knowledge workers?

Background.  Globally, the demand for quality-led and innovative service delivery requires that nurses and midwives shift from being ‘information workers’, or passive receivers of managerial and organizational decisions, to become ‘knowledge workers’ who are able to create, lead and communicate service innovation and practice development. New communication technologies may offer a means for healthcare professionals to interact as knowledge workers and develop supportive communities of practice.

Methods.  An online discussion forum was implemented as a low-cost technological intervention, deploying existing hardware and a standard hospital intranet. The evaluation of the forum was constructed as case-study organizational research. The totality of online communication, both traffic and content, was analysed over a 3-month period (193 messages downloaded 2003/2004), and 15 in-depth interviews were undertaken with forum users.

Findings.  Given simple, facilitative, innovative technology, supported by a positive working culture and guided by effective leadership, midwives could function as ‘knowledge workers’, critically reflecting upon their practice and translating knowledge into action designed to achieve change in practice. Participation occurred across all staff grades, and midwives were predominantly supportive and facilitative towards the contributions made by colleagues.

Conclusion.  Midwives may be well placed to exemplify the ‘ideal’ characteristics of the knowledge worker being demanded of modern healthcare professionals. The deployment of online interactive technologies as part of strategic vision to enhance knowledge work among healthcare professionals should be given attention within health systems.