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1.  Understanding integrated care pathways in palliative care using realist evaluation: a mixed methods study protocol 
BMJ Open  2012;2(4):e001533.
Introduction
Policy- and evidence-based guidelines have highlighted the need for improved palliative and end-of-life care. However, there is still evidence of individuals dying undignified deaths with little pain control, therefore inflicting unnecessary suffering. New commissioning powers have enabled a 2-year pilot of an innovative integrated care pathway (ICP) designed to improve arrangements for individuals with life-limiting illnesses requiring palliative care. A novel feature of the ICP is its focus on palliative care over the last 6 months of life, aiming to intervene early to prepare for and ensure a good death. What is not known is if this pathway works, how it works and who it works for.
Methods and analysis
A realist evaluation and a complex analytical framework will investigate and discover context, mechanism and outcome conjectures and configurations of the ICP and thus facilitate exploration of how it works and who it works for. A mixed methods approach will be used with small sample sizes to capture the breadth of the ICP. Phase 1 will identify if the pathway works through analysis of NHS Morbidity Information Query and Export Syntax data, locality Death Audit data and the Quality of Dying and Death Questionnaire. Phase 2 employs soft systems methodology with data from focus groups with health professionals to identify how the pathway works. Phase 3 uses the Miller Behavioural Style Scale and interviews with palliative care patients and bereaved relatives to analyse communication in palliative care.
Ethics and dissemination
Ethical approval has been granted from the NHS local ethics committee (REC reference number: 11/NE/0318). Research & Development approval has been gained from four different trusts, and relevant voluntary organisations and the local council have been informed about the research. This protocol illustrates the complexity inherent in evaluating a palliative care ICP. Identification of whether the pathway works, how it works and who it works for will be beneficial to all practices and other care providers involved as it will give objective data on the impact of the ICP. Results will be disseminated throughout the study for continuous quality improvement of the ICP. Outcomes from each data collection phase will be disseminated separately if analysis warrants it; all data collection will be utilised in the realist evaluation. The research provides a potential for the dissemination of the pathway to other localities through the transferable knowledge it will generate, from its focus on the contexts that are crucial for successful implementation, the mechanisms that facilitate implementation and the outcomes achieved.
Article summary
Article focus
This article is a protocol of a realist evaluation of a palliative care ICP, which was developed in Primary Care by health practitioners. The ICP itself uses elements of long-term chronic illness care in order to provide holistic, supportive, high-quality palliative care. The focus of the article is to detail how the ICP will be evaluated, using a variety of data collection tools, which will identify contexts and mechanisms that lead to improved outcomes, thus taking the main focus away from just the outcomes alone. The identification of contexts and mechanisms for improved outcomes is known as realist evaluation and will provide a better knowledge of the essential conditions of effectiveness when the ICP is implemented in other localities.
Key messages
The key aim of this article is to detail the creation of a complex realist evaluation, which utilises a unique and varied methodological framework. It is hoped that through this article, others will understand the groundwork needed to set up and execute a realist evaluation.
Strengths and limitations of this study
The protocol details a complex evaluation of a unique palliative care ICP using a new and innovative methodology: realist evaluation.
Some may perceive the small sample sizes in the qualitative sections of the study as a weakness. However, the aim of the study is not to find a robust causal mechanism; this would be premature with an ICP in its infancy. The aim is to unpack the contexts and mechanisms that work in certain circumstances, from this conditions crucial for effectiveness can be highlighted, which are essential for implementation of the ICP in other localities.
The ICP involves 15 general practitioner practices, which collectively care for 80 300 patients. The study described will use Morbidity Information Query and Export Syntax and Death Audit data from all 15 practices and will conduct the other sections of research within selected practices, both rural and suburban.
Finally, palliative care is commonly misunderstood in the literature and in the field. This paper addresses this confusion and fills a gap in the literature.
doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2012-001533
PMCID: PMC3391371  PMID: 22761292
2.  Conditions for production of interdisciplinary teamwork outcomes in oncology teams: protocol for a realist evaluation 
Background
Interdisciplinary teamwork (ITW) is designed to promote the active participation of several disciplines in delivering comprehensive cancer care to patients. ITW provides mechanisms to support continuous communication among care providers, optimize professionals’ participation in clinical decision-making within and across disciplines, and foster care coordination along the cancer trajectory. However, ITW mechanisms are not activated optimally by all teams, resulting in a gap between desired outcomes of ITW and actual outcomes observed. The aim of the present study is to identify the conditions underlying outcome production by ITW in local oncology teams.
Methods
This retrospective multiple case study will draw upon realist evaluation principles to explore associations among context, mechanisms and outcomes (CMO). The cases are nine interdisciplinary cancer teams that participated in a previous study evaluating ITW outcomes. Qualitative data sources will be used to construct a picture of CMO associations in each case. For data collection, reflexive focus groups will be held to capture patients’ and professionals’ perspectives on ITW, using the guiding question, ‘What works, for whom, and under what circumstances?’ Intra-case analysis will be used to trace associations between context, ITW mechanisms, and patient outcomes. Inter-case analysis will be used to compare the different cases’ CMO associations for a better understanding of the phenomenon under study.
Discussion
This multiple case study will use realist evaluation principles to draw lessons about how certain contexts are more or less likely to produce particular outcomes. The results will make it possible to target more specifically the actions required to optimize structures and to activate the best mechanisms to meet the needs of cancer patients. This project could also contribute significantly to the development of improved research methods for conducting realist evaluations of complex healthcare interventions. To our knowledge, this study is the first to use CMO associations to improved empirical and theoretical understanding of interdisciplinary teamwork in oncology, and its results could foster more effective implementation in clinical practice.
doi:10.1186/1748-5908-9-76
PMCID: PMC4074333  PMID: 24938443
Interdisciplinarity; Professional practices; Realist evaluation; Patient outcomes; Case study; Cancer
3.  How does capacity building of health managers work? A realist evaluation study protocol 
BMJ Open  2012;2(2):e000882.
Introduction
There has been a lot of attention on the role of human resource management interventions to improve delivery of health services in low- and middle-income countries. However, studies on this subject are few due to limited research on implementation of programmes and methodological difficulties in conducting experimental studies on human resource interventions. The authors present the protocol of an evaluation of a district-level capacity-building intervention to identify the determinants of performance of health workers in managerial positions and to understand how changes (if any) are brought about.
Methods and analysis
The aim of this study is to understand how capacity building works. The authors will use realist evaluation to evaluate an intervention in Karnataka, India. The intervention is a capacity-building programme that seeks to improve management capacities of health managers at district and subdistrict levels through periodic classroom-based teaching and mentoring support at the workplace. The authors conducted interviews and reviewed literature on capacity building in health to draw out the programme theory of the intervention. Based on this, the authors formulated hypothetical pathways connecting the expected outcomes of the intervention (planning and supervision) to the inputs (contact classes and mentoring). The authors prepared a questionnaire to assess elements of the programme theory—organisational culture, self-efficacy and supervision. The authors shall conduct a survey among health managers as well as collect qualitative data through interviews with participants and non-participants selected purposively based on their planning and supervision performance. The authors will construct explanations in the form of context–mechanism–outcome configurations from the results. This will be iterative and the authors will use a realist evaluation framework to refine the explanatory theories that are based on the findings to explain and validate an improved theory on ‘what works for whom and under what conditions’.
Discussion
The scope for applying realist evaluation to study human resource management interventions in health are discussed.
Article summary
Article focus
Despite a lot of focus on capacity building of health workforce to improve health outcomes in developing countries, there are very few studies on how capacity building brings about better performance.
Methodological difficulties and complexity of health systems impose restrictions on evaluating human resource management interventions.
Key messages
Health worker practices are complex behaviours that are determined by various individual, institutional and systemic factors.
It is possible to use a theory-driven evaluation approach such as realist evaluation to understand the mechanisms through which capacity-building programmes improve (or do not improve) performance of health workers.
Strengths and limitations of this study
This is the first application of realist evaluation to a local health system intervention (capacity building).
Instead of ‘does it work or not?’, the study seeks to understand ‘what works for whom and under what conditions’.
doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2012-000882
PMCID: PMC3330260  PMID: 22466036
4.  Exploring why quality circles work in primary health care: a realist review protocol 
Systematic Reviews  2013;2:110.
Background
Quality circles (QCs) are commonly used in primary health care in Europe to consider and improve standard practice over time. They represent a complex social intervention that occurs within the fast-changing system of primary health care. Numerous controlled trials, reviews, and studies have shown small but unpredictable positive effect sizes on behavior change. Although QCs seem to be effective, stakeholders have difficulty understanding how the results are achieved and in generalizing the results with confidence. They also lack understanding of the active components of QCs which result in changes in the behavior of health care professionals. This protocol for a realist synthesis will examine how configurations of components and the contextual features of QCs influence their performance.
Methods/Design
Stakeholder interviews and a scoping search revealed the processes of QCs and helped to describe their core components and underlying theories. After clarifying their historical and geographical distribution, a purposive and systematic search was developed to identify relevant papers to answer the research questions, which are: understanding why, how, and when QCs work, over what time frame, and in what circumstances. After selecting and abstracting appropriate data, configurations of contexts and mechanisms which influence the outcome of QCs within each study will be identified. Studies will be grouped by similar propositional statements in order to identify patterns and validation from stakeholders sought. Finally, theories will be explored in order to explain these patterns and to help stakeholders maintain and improve QC performance.
Discussion
Analyzing context-mechanism-outcome (CMO) patterns will reveal how QCs work and how contextual factors interact to influence their outcome. The aim is to investigate unique configurations that enable them to improve the performance of health care professionals. Using a standardized reporting system, this realist review will allow the research questions to be answered to the satisfaction of key stakeholders and enable on-going critical examination and dissemination of the findings.
Study registration
PROSPERO registration number: CRD42013004826.
doi:10.1186/2046-4053-2-110
PMCID: PMC4029275  PMID: 24321626
Realist synthesis; Realist review; Quality circle; Peer review group; Small group work; Quality improvement
5.  Understanding how appraisal of doctors produces its effects: a realist review protocol 
BMJ Open  2014;4(6):e005466.
Introduction
UK doctors are now required to participate in revalidation to maintain their licence to practise. Appraisal is a fundamental component of revalidation. However, objective evidence of appraisal changing doctors’ behaviour and directly resulting in improved patient care is limited. In particular, it is not clear how the process of appraisal is supposed to change doctors’ behaviour and improve clinical performance. The aim of this research is to understand how and why appraisal of doctors is supposed to produce its effect.
Methods and analysis
Realist review is a theory-driven interpretive approach to evidence synthesis. It applies realist logic of inquiry to produce an explanatory analysis of an intervention that is, what works, for whom, in what circumstances, in what respects. Using a realist review approach, an initial programme theory of appraisal will be developed by consulting with key stakeholders in doctors’ appraisal in expert panels (ethical approval is not required), and by searching the literature to identify relevant existing theories. The search strategy will have a number of phases including a combination of: (1) electronic database searching, for example, EMBASE, MEDLINE, the Cochrane Library, ASSIA, (2) ‘cited by’ articles search, (3) citation searching, (4) contacting authors and (5) grey literature searching. The search for evidence will be iteratively extended and refocused as the review progresses. Studies will be included based on their ability to provide data that enable testing of the programme theory. Data extraction will be conducted, for example, by note taking and annotation at different review stages as is consistent with the realist approach. The evidence will be synthesised using realist logic to interrogate the final programme theory of the impact of appraisal on doctors’ performance. The synthesis results will be written up according to RAMESES guidelines and disseminated through peer-reviewed publication and presentations.
Trial registration number
The protocol is registered with PROSPERO 2014:CRD42014007092.
doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2014-005466
PMCID: PMC4067866  PMID: 24958211
EDUCATION & TRAINING (see Medical Education & Training); HEALTH SERVICES ADMINISTRATION & MANAGEMENT; MEDICAL EDUCATION & TRAINING
6.  The effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of shared care: protocol for a realist review 
Systematic Reviews  2013;2:12.
Background
Shared care (an enhanced information exchange over and above routine outpatient letters) is commonly used to improve care coordination and communication between a specialist and primary care services for people with long-term conditions. Evidence of the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of shared care is mixed. Informed decision-making for targeting shared care requires a greater understanding of how it works, for whom it works, in what contexts and why. This protocol outlines how realist review methods can be used to synthesise evidence on shared care for long-term conditions.
A further aim of the review is to explore economic evaluations of shared care. Economic evaluations are difficult to synthesise due to problems in accounting for contextual differences that impact on resource use and opportunity costs. Realist review methods have been suggested as a way to overcome some of these issues, so this review will also assess whether realist review methods are amenable to synthesising economic evidence.
Methods/Design
Database and web searching will be carried out in order to find relevant evidence to develop and test programme theories about how shared care works. The review will have two phases. Phase 1 will concentrate on the contextual conditions and mechanisms that influence how shared care works, in order to develop programme theories, which partially explain how it works. Phase 2 will focus on testing these programme theories. A Project Reference Group made up of health service professionals and people with actual experience of long-term conditions will be used to ground the study in real-life experience. Review findings will be disseminated through local and sub-national networks for integrated care and long-term conditions.
Discussion
This realist review will explore why and for whom shared care works, in order to support decision-makers working to improve the effectiveness of care for people outside hospital. The development of realist review methods to take into account cost and cost-effectiveness evidence is particularly innovative and challenging, and if successful will offer a new approach to synthesising economic evidence. This systematic review protocol is registered on the PROSPERO database (registration number: CRD42012002842).
doi:10.1186/2046-4053-2-12
PMCID: PMC3599640  PMID: 23402391
Shared care; Long-term conditions; Cost-effectiveness; Economic evaluation; Realist review; Integrated care; Primary care
7.  Implementing health research through academic and clinical partnerships: a realistic evaluation of the Collaborations for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care (CLAHRC) 
Background
The English National Health Service has made a major investment in nine partnerships between higher education institutions and local health services called Collaborations for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care (CLAHRC). They have been funded to increase capacity and capability to produce and implement research through sustained interactions between academics and health services. CLAHRCs provide a natural 'test bed' for exploring questions about research implementation within a partnership model of delivery. This protocol describes an externally funded evaluation that focuses on implementation mechanisms and processes within three CLAHRCs. It seeks to uncover what works, for whom, how, and in what circumstances.
Design and methods
This study is a longitudinal three-phase, multi-method realistic evaluation, which deliberately aims to explore the boundaries around knowledge use in context. The evaluation funder wishes to see it conducted for the process of learning, not for judging performance. The study is underpinned by a conceptual framework that combines the Promoting Action on Research Implementation in Health Services and Knowledge to Action frameworks to reflect the complexities of implementation. Three participating CLARHCS will provide in-depth comparative case studies of research implementation using multiple data collection methods including interviews, observation, documents, and publicly available data to test and refine hypotheses over four rounds of data collection. We will test the wider applicability of emerging findings with a wider community using an interpretative forum.
Discussion
The idea that collaboration between academics and services might lead to more applicable health research that is actually used in practice is theoretically and intuitively appealing; however the evidence for it is limited. Our evaluation is designed to capture the processes and impacts of collaborative approaches for implementing research, and therefore should contribute to the evidence base about an increasingly popular (e.g., Mode two, integrated knowledge transfer, interactive research), but poorly understood approach to knowledge translation. Additionally we hope to develop approaches for evaluating implementation processes and impacts particularly with respect to integrated stakeholder involvement.
doi:10.1186/1748-5908-6-74
PMCID: PMC3168414  PMID: 21771329
8.  Effective health care for older people resident in care homes: the optimal study protocol for realist review 
Systematic Reviews  2014;3:49.
Background
Care homes in the UK rely on general practice for access to specialist medical and nursing care as well as referral to therapists and secondary care. Service delivery to care homes is highly variable in both quantity and quality. This variability is also evident in the commissioning and organisation of care home-specific services that range from the payment of incentives to general practitioners (GPs) to visit care homes, to the creation of care home specialist teams and outreach services run by geriatricians. No primary studies or systematic reviews have robustly evaluated the impact of these different approaches on organisation and resident-level outcomes. Our aim is to identify factors which may explain the perceived or demonstrated effectiveness of programmes to improve health-related outcomes in older people living in care homes.
Methods/Design
A realist review approach will be used to develop a theoretical understanding of what works when, why and in what circumstances. Elements of service models of interest include those that focus on assessment and management of residents’ health, those that use strategies to encourage closer working between visiting health care providers and care home staff, and those that address system-wide issues about access to assessment and treatment. These will include studies on continence, dignity, and speech and language assessment as well as interventions to promote person centred dementia care, improve strength and mobility, and nutrition. The impact of these interventions and their different mechanisms will be considered in relation to five key outcomes: residents’ medication use, use of out of hours’ services, hospital admissions (including use of Accident and Emergency) and length of hospital stay, costs and user satisfaction. An iterative three-stage approach will be undertaken that is stakeholder-driven and optimises the knowledge and networks of the research team.
Discussion
This realist review will explore why and for whom different approaches to providing health care to residents in care homes improves access to health care in the five areas of interest. It will inform commissioning decisions and be the basis for further research. This systematic review protocol is registered on the PROSPERO database reference number: CRD42014009112.
doi:10.1186/2046-4053-3-49
PMCID: PMC4037277  PMID: 24887325
Residential facilities; Primary care; Older people; Health services; Realist review
9.  Protocol: a realist review of user fee exemption policies for health services in Africa 
BMJ Open  2012;2(1):e000706.
Background
Four years prior to the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) deadline, low- and middle-income countries and international stakeholders are looking for evidence-based policies to improve access to healthcare for the most vulnerable populations. User fee exemption policies are one of the potential solutions. However, the evidence is disparate, and systematic reviews have failed to provide valuable lessons. The authors propose to produce an innovative synthesis of the available evidence on user fee exemption policies in Africa to feed the policy-making process.
Methods
The authors will carry out a realist review to answer the following research question: what are the outcomes of user fee exemption policies implemented in Africa? why do they produce such outcomes? and what contextual elements come into play? This type of review aims to understand how contextual elements influence the production of outcomes through the activation of specific mechanisms, in the form of context–mechanism–outcome configurations. The review will be conducted in five steps: (1) identifying with key stakeholders the mechanisms underlying user fee exemption policies to develop the analytical framework, (2) searching for and selecting primary data, (3) assessing the quality of evidence using the Mixed-Method Appraisal Tool, (4) extracting the data using the analytical framework and (5) synthesising the data in the form of context–mechanism–outcomes configurations. The output will be a middle-range theory specifying how user fee exemption policies work, for what populations and under what circumstances.
Ethics and dissemination
The two main target audiences are researchers who are looking for examples to implement a realist review, and policy-makers and international stakeholders looking for lessons learnt on user fee exemption. For the latter, a knowledge-sharing strategy involving local scientific and policy networks will be implemented. The study has been approved by the ethics committee of the CHUM Research Centre (CR-CHUM). It received funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. The funders will not have any role in study design; collection, management, analysis, and interpretation of data; writing of the report and the decision to submit the report for publication, including who will have ultimate authority over each of these activities.
Article summary
Article focus
Demonstrate how a realist review can provide new insights on user fee exemption policies in Africa.
Highlight the foundations of the realist approach and explicit its key principles.
Key messages
Traditional systematic reviews fail to provide valuable lessons when it comes to understand how the context and the mechanisms of a policy interact to produce outcomes.
The realist approach is a promising way for synthesising scientific and grey literature to understand the black boxes of complex social interventions, such as health policies.
Strengths and limitations of this study
Innovative way to systematically review literature on user fee exemption policies.
Inclusion of grey literature in the review.
Geographic area limited to Africa.
doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2011-000706
PMCID: PMC3269046  PMID: 22275427
10.  Understanding success and failure in multimorbidity: protocol for using realist synthesis to identify how social learning and workplace practices can be optimised 
Systematic Reviews  2013;2:87.
Background
Multimorbidity is increasingly prevalent but, aside from epidemiological work, the impact on associated provision of healthcare and/or education is little understood. For example, it is unclear how or why healthcare interventions meet (or do not meet) people’s multiple needs. Professionals working in primary care training sites must reconcile two goals: provision of appropriate individualised healthcare and provision of constructive workplace-based learning for future professionals. Given that professionals, learners and patients may have differing priorities and conceptualisations of success and failure in the absence of cure, achievement of both goals depends on social and cultural mechanisms. This review aims to make sense of how healthcare delivery for, and education about, multimorbidity can be concurrently delivered in primary care through identification of relevant theoretical frameworks.
Methods/design
Realist synthesis identifies and makes sense of variable outcomes caused by interaction between mechanisms and contexts. This review will produce a synthesis of social science, education and primary care literature. Our objective is to understand interactivity between models of workplace-based education and models of patient-centred/integrated care with a focus on perceptions of 'success’ and 'failure’ in multimorbidity. We intend to build a conceptual map and a realist programme theory, populated with evidence from the literature, as the first step towards answering our review question: what is known about how and why concurrent health service delivery and professional medical education interact together to generate outcomes valued by professionals, learners and patients for patients with multimorbidity in primary care? To answer this we are focusing on relationship-based negotiation of needs-based learning and needs-based care as our primary outcome of interest. In this protocol we outline our search strategy and proposed methods of analysis and synthesis of credible and trustworthy data judged to be relevant to our research question.
Discussion
Findings will be submitted for peer-reviewed publication. Identification of how mechanisms of social learning and workplace practices could be optimised to improve quality and utility of patient care in multimorbidity is important. This can inform the future research regarding interventions that will produce a sustainable medical workforce equipped to provide healthcare, when the possibility of cure is absent.
doi:10.1186/2046-4053-2-87
PMCID: PMC3849769  PMID: 24066719
Realist synthesis; Medical education; Health service delivery; Primary care; Socio-cultural theories
11.  Minimally invasive surgical procedures for the treatment of lumbar disc herniation 
Introduction
In up to 30% of patients undergoing lumbar disc surgery for herniated or protruded discs outcomes are judged unfavourable. Over the last decades this problem has stimulated the development of a number of minimally-invasive operative procedures. The aim is to relieve pressure from compromised nerve roots by mechanically removing, dissolving or evaporating disc material while leaving bony structures and surrounding tissues as intact as possible. In Germany, there is hardly any utilisation data for these new procedures – data files from the statutory health insurances demonstrate that about 5% of all lumbar disc surgeries are performed using minimally-invasive techniques. Their real proportion is thought to be much higher because many procedures are offered by private hospitals and surgeries and are paid by private health insurers or patients themselves. So far no comprehensive assessment comparing efficacy, safety, effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of minimally-invasive lumbar disc surgery to standard procedures (microdiscectomy, open discectomy) which could serve as a basis for coverage decisions, has been published in Germany.
Objective
Against this background the aim of the following assessment is:
Based on published scientific literature assess safety, efficacy and effectiveness of minimally-invasive lumbar disc surgery compared to standard procedures. To identify and critically appraise studies comparing costs and cost-effectiveness of minimally-invasive procedures to that of standard procedures. If necessary identify research and evaluation needs and point out regulative needs within the German health care system. The assessment focusses on procedures that are used in elective lumbar disc surgery as alternative treatment options to microdiscectomy or open discectomy. Chemonucleolysis, percutaneous manual discectomy, automated percutaneous lumbar discectomy, laserdiscectomy and endoscopic procedures accessing the disc by a posterolateral or posterior approach are included.
Methods
In order to assess safety, efficacy and effectiveness of minimally-invasive procedures as well as their economic implications systematic reviews of the literature are performed. A comprehensive search strategy is composed to search 23 electronic databases, among them MEDLINE, EMBASE and the Cochrane Library. Methodological quality of systematic reviews, HTA reports and primary research is assessed using checklists of the German Scientific Working Group for Health Technology Assessment. Quality and transparency of cost analyses are documented using the quality and transparency catalogues of the working group. Study results are summarised in a qualitative manner. Due to the limited number and the low methodological quality of the studies it is not possible to conduct metaanalyses. In addition to the results of controlled trials results of recent case series are introduced and discussed.
Results
The evidence-base to assess safety, efficacy and effectiveness of minimally-invasive lumbar disc surgery procedures is rather limited:
Percutaneous manual discectomy: Six case series (four after 1998)Automated percutaneous lumbar discectomy: Two RCT (one discontinued), twelve case series (one after 1998)Chemonucleolysis: Five RCT, five non-randomised controlled trials, eleven case seriesPercutaneous laserdiscectomy: One non-randomised controlled trial, 13 case series (eight after 1998)Endoscopic procedures: Three RCT, 21 case series (17 after 1998)
There are two economic analyses each retrieved for chemonucleolysis and automated percutaneous discectomy as well as one cost-minimisation analysis comparing costs of an endoscopic procedure to costs for open discectomy.
Among all minimally-invasive procedures chemonucleolysis is the only of which efficacy may be judged on the basis of results from high quality randomised controlled trials (RCT). Study results suggest that the procedure maybe (cost)effectively used as an intermediate therapeutical option between conservative and operative management of small lumbar disc herniations or protrusions causing sciatica. Two RCT comparing transforaminal endoscopic procedures with microdiscectomy in patients with sciatica and small non-sequestered disc herniations show comparable short and medium term overall success rates. Concerning speed of recovery and return to work a trend towards more favourable results for the endoscopic procedures is noted. It is doubtful though, whether these results from the eleven and five years old studies are still valid for the more advanced procedures used today. The only RCT comparing the results of automated percutaneous lumbar discectomy to those of microdiscectomy showed clearly superior results of microdiscectomy. Furthermore, success rates of automated percutaneous lumbar discectomy reported in the RCT (29%) differ extremely from success rates reported in case series (between 56% and 92%).
The literature search retrieves no controlled trials to assess efficacy and/or effectiveness of laser-discectomy, percutaneous manual discectomy or endoscopic procedures using a posterior approach in comparison to the standard procedures. Results from recent case series permit no assessment of efficacy, especially not in comparison to standard procedures. Due to highly selected patients, modi-fications of operative procedures, highly specialised surgical units and poorly standardised outcome assessment results of case series are highly variable, their generalisability is low.
The results of the five economical analyses are, due to conceptual and methodological problems, of no value for decision-making in the context of the German health care system.
Discussion
Aside from low methodological study quality three conceptual problems complicate the interpretation of results.
Continuous further development of technologies leads to a diversity of procedures in use which prohibits generalisation of study results. However, diversity is noted not only for minimally-invasive procedures but also for the standard techniques against which the new developments are to be compared. The second problem refers to the heterogeneity of study populations. For most studies one common inclusion criterion was "persisting sciatica after a course of conservative treatment of variable duration". Differences among study populations are noted concerning results of imaging studies. Even within every group of minimally-invasive procedure, studies define their own in- and exclusion criteria which differ concerning degree of dislocation and sequestration of disc material. There is the non-standardised assessment of outcomes which are performed postoperatively after variable periods of time. Most studies report results in a dichotomous way as success or failure while the classification of a result is performed using a variety of different assessment instruments or procedures. Very often the global subjective judgement of results by patients or surgeons is reported. There are no scientific discussions whether these judgements are generalisable or comparable, especially among studies that are conducted under differing socio-cultural conditions. Taking into account the weak evidence-base for efficacy and effectiveness of minimally-invasive procedures it is not surprising that so far there are no dependable economic analyses.
Conclusions
Conclusions that can be drawn from the results of the present assessment refer in detail to the specified minimally-invasive procedures of lumbar disc surgery but they may also be considered exemplary for other fields where optimisation of results is attempted by technological development and widening of indications (e.g. total hip replacement).
Compared to standard technologies (open discectomy, microdiscectomy) and with the exception of chemonucleolysis, the developmental status of all other minimally-invasive procedures assessed must be termed experimental. To date there is no dependable evidence-base to recommend their use in routine clinical practice. To create such a dependable evidence-base further research in two directions is needed: a) The studies need to include adequate patient populations, use realistic controls (e.g. standard operative procedures or continued conservative care) and use standardised measurements of meaningful outcomes after adequate periods of time. b) Studies that are able to report effectiveness of the procedures under everyday practice conditions and furthermore have the potential to detect rare adverse effects are needed. In Sweden this type of data is yielded by national quality registries. On the one hand their data are used for quality improvement measures and on the other hand they allow comprehensive scientific evaluations. Since the year of 2000 a continuous rise in utilisation of minimally-invasive lumbar disc surgery is observed among statutory health insurers. Examples from other areas of innovative surgical technologies (e.g. robot assisted total hip replacement) indicate that the rise will probably continue - especially because there are no legal barriers to hinder introduction of innovative treatments into routine hospital care. Upon request by payers or providers the "Gemeinsamer Bundesausschuss" may assess a treatments benefit, its necessity and cost-effectiveness as a prerequisite for coverage by the statutory health insurance. In the case of minimally-invasive disc surgery it would be advisable to examine the legal framework for covering procedures only if they are provided under evaluation conditions. While in Germany coverage under evaluation conditions is established practice in ambulatory health care only (“Modellvorhaben") examples from other European countries (Great Britain, Switzerland) demonstrate that it is also feasible for hospital based interventions. In order to assure patient protection and at the same time not hinder the further development of new and promising technologies provision under evaluation conditions could also be realised in the private health care market - although in this sector coverage is not by law linked to benefit, necessity and cost-effectiveness of an intervention.
PMCID: PMC3011322  PMID: 21289928
12.  Experiences of Living and Dying With COPD 
Executive Summary
In July 2010, the Medical Advisory Secretariat (MAS) began work on a Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) evidentiary framework, an evidence-based review of the literature surrounding treatment strategies for patients with COPD. This project emerged from a request by the Health System Strategy Division of the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care that MAS provide them with an evidentiary platform on the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of COPD interventions.
After an initial review of health technology assessments and systematic reviews of COPD literature, and consultation with experts, MAS identified the following topics for analysis: vaccinations (influenza and pneumococcal), smoking cessation, multidisciplinary care, pulmonary rehabilitation, long-term oxygen therapy, noninvasive positive pressure ventilation for acute and chronic respiratory failure, hospital-at-home for acute exacerbations of COPD, and telehealth (including telemonitoring and telephone support). Evidence-based analyses were prepared for each of these topics. For each technology, an economic analysis was also completed where appropriate. In addition, a review of the qualitative literature on patient, caregiver, and provider perspectives on living and dying with COPD was conducted, as were reviews of the qualitative literature on each of the technologies included in these analyses.
The Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease Mega-Analysis series is made up of the following reports, which can be publicly accessed at the MAS website at: http://www.hqontario.ca/en/mas/mas_ohtas_mn.html.
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) Evidentiary Framework
Influenza and Pneumococcal Vaccinations for Patients With Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD): An Evidence-Based Analysis
Smoking Cessation for Patients With Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD): An Evidence-Based Analysis
Community-Based Multidisciplinary Care for Patients With Stable Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD): An Evidence-Based Analysis
Pulmonary Rehabilitation for Patients With Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD): An Evidence-Based Analysis
Long-Term Oxygen Therapy for Patients With Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD): An Evidence-Based Analysis
Noninvasive Positive Pressure Ventilation for Acute Respiratory Failure Patients With Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD): An Evidence-Based Analysis
Noninvasive Positive Pressure Ventilation for Chronic Respiratory Failure Patients With Stable Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD): An Evidence-Based Analysis
Hospital-at-Home Programs for Patients With Acute Exacerbations of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD): An Evidence-Based Analysis
Home Telehealth for Patients With Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD): An Evidence-Based Analysis
Cost-Effectiveness of Interventions for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease Using an Ontario Policy Model
Experiences of Living and Dying With COPD: A Systematic Review and Synthesis of the Qualitative Empirical Literature
For more information on the qualitative review, please contact Mita Giacomini at: http://fhs.mcmaster.ca/ceb/faculty_member_giacomini.htm.
For more information on the economic analysis, please visit the PATH website: http://www.path-hta.ca/About-Us/Contact-Us.aspx.
The Toronto Health Economics and Technology Assessment (THETA) collaborative has produced an associated report on patient preference for mechanical ventilation. For more information, please visit the THETA website: http://theta.utoronto.ca/static/contact.
Objective of Analysis
The objective of this analysis was to review empirical qualitative research on the experiences of patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), informal caregivers (“carers”), and health care providers—from the point of diagnosis, through daily living and exacerbation episodes, to the end of life.
Clinical Need and Target Population
Qualitative empirical studies (from social sciences, clinical, and related fields) can offer important information about how patients experience their condition. This exploration of the qualitative literature offers insights into patients’ perspectives on COPD, their needs, and how interventions might affect their experiences. The experiences of caregivers are also explored.
Research Question
What do patients with COPD, their informal caregivers (“carers”), and health care providers experience over the course of COPD?
Research Methods
Literature Search
Search Strategy
Literature searches for studies published from January 1, 2000, to November 2010 were performed on November 29, 2010, using OVID MEDLINE; on November 26, 2010, using ISI Web of Science; and on November 28, 2010, using EBSCO Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature (CINAHL). Titles and abstracts were reviewed by a single reviewer and, for those studies meeting the eligibility criteria, full-text articles were obtained. One additional report, highly relevant to the synthesis, appeared in early 2011 during the drafting of this analysis and was included post hoc.
Inclusion Criteria
English-language full reports
studies published between January 1, 2000, and November 2010
primary qualitative empirical research (using any descriptive or interpretive qualitative methodology, including the qualitative component of mixed-methods studies) and secondary syntheses of primary qualitative empirical research
studies addressing any aspect of the experiences of living or dying with COPD from the perspective of persons at risk, patients, health care providers, or informal carers; studies addressing multiple conditions were included if COPD was addressed explicitly
Exclusion Criteria
studies addressing topics other than the experiences of living or dying with COPD from the perspective of persons at risk, patients, health care providers, or informal carers
studies labelled “qualitative” but not using a qualitative descriptive or interpretive methodology (e.g., case studies, experiments, or observational analysis using qualitative categorical variables)
quantitative research (i.e., using statistical hypothesis testing, using primarily quantitative data or analyses, or expressing results in quantitative or statistical terms)
studies that did not pose an empirical research objective or question, or involve the primary or secondary analysis of empirical data
Outcomes of Interest
qualitative descriptions and interpretations (narrative or theoretical) of personal and social experiences of COPD
Summary of Findings
Experiences at Diagnosis
Patients typically seek initial treatment for an acute episode rather than for chronic early symptoms of COPD.
Many patients initially misunderstand terms such as COPD, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or exacerbation.
Patients may not realize that COPD is incurable and fatal; some physicians themselves do not consider early COPD to be a fatal disease.
Smokers may not readily understand or agree with the idea that smoking caused or worsens their COPD. Those who believe there is a causal link may feel regret or shame.
Experiences of Living Day to Day
COPD patients experience alternating good days and bad days. A roller-coaster pattern of ups and downs becomes apparent, and COPD becomes a way of life.
Patients use many means (social, psychological, medical, organizational) to control what they can, and to cope with what they cannot. Economic hardship, comorbidities, language barriers, and low health literacy can make coping more difficult.
Increasing vulnerability and unpredictable setbacks make patients dependent on others for practical assistance, but functional limitations, institutional living or self-consciousness can isolate patients from the people they need.
For smokers, medical advice to quit can conflict with increased desire to smoke as a coping strategy.
Many of the factors that isolate COPD patients from social contact also isolate them from health care.
Experiences of Exacerbations
Patients may not always attribute repeated exacerbations to advancing disease, instead seeing them as temporary setbacks caused by activities, environmental factors, faltering self-management, or infection.
Lack of confidence in community-based services leads some patients to seek hospital admission, but patients also feel vulnerable when hospitalized. They may feel dependent on others for care or traumatized by hospital care routines.
Upon hospital discharge following an exacerbation, patients may face new levels of uncertainty about their illness, prognosis, care providers, and supports.
Experiences of the End of Life
Patients tend to be poorly informed about the long-term prognosis of COPD and what to expect toward the end of life; this lack of understanding impairs quality of life as the disease progresses.
As the end of life approaches, COPD patients face the usual challenges of daily living, but in a context of increasing exacerbations and deepening dependency. Activities and mobility decrease, and life may become confined.
Some clinicians have difficulty identifying the beginning of “the end of life,” given the unpredictable course of COPD. Long-term physician-patient relationships, familiarity and understanding, trust, good communication skills, sensitivity, and secure discussion settings can help facilitate end-of-life discussions.
Divergent meanings and goals of palliative care in COPD lead to confusion about whether such services are the responsibility of home care, primary care, specialty care, or even critical care. Palliative end-of-life care may not be anticipated prior to referral for such care. A palliative care referral can convey the demoralizing message that providers have “given up.”
Experiences of Carers
Carers’ challenges often echo patients’ challenges, and include anxiety, uncertainty about the future, helplessness, powerlessness, depression, difficulties maintaining employment, loss of mobility and freedoms, strained relationships, and growing social isolation.
Carers feel pressured by their many roles, struggling to maintain patience when they feel overwhelmed, and often feeling guilty about not doing enough.
Carers often face their own health problems and may have difficulty sustaining employment.
Synthesis: A Disease Trajectory Reflecting Patient Experiences
The flux of needs in COPD calls for service continuity and flexibility to allow both health care providers and patients to respond to the unpredictable yet increasing demands of the disease over time.
PMCID: PMC3384365  PMID: 23074423
13.  Methods for Specifying the Target Difference in a Randomised Controlled Trial: The Difference ELicitation in TriAls (DELTA) Systematic Review 
PLoS Medicine  2014;11(5):e1001645.
Jonathan Cook and colleagues systematically reviewed the literature for methods of determining the target difference for use in calculating the necessary sample size for clinical trials, and discuss which methods are best for various types of trials.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Background
Randomised controlled trials (RCTs) are widely accepted as the preferred study design for evaluating healthcare interventions. When the sample size is determined, a (target) difference is typically specified that the RCT is designed to detect. This provides reassurance that the study will be informative, i.e., should such a difference exist, it is likely to be detected with the required statistical precision. The aim of this review was to identify potential methods for specifying the target difference in an RCT sample size calculation.
Methods and Findings
A comprehensive systematic review of medical and non-medical literature was carried out for methods that could be used to specify the target difference for an RCT sample size calculation. The databases searched were MEDLINE, MEDLINE In-Process, EMBASE, the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, the Cochrane Methodology Register, PsycINFO, Science Citation Index, EconLit, the Education Resources Information Center (ERIC), and Scopus (for in-press publications); the search period was from 1966 or the earliest date covered, to between November 2010 and January 2011. Additionally, textbooks addressing the methodology of clinical trials and International Conference on Harmonisation of Technical Requirements for Registration of Pharmaceuticals for Human Use (ICH) tripartite guidelines for clinical trials were also consulted. A narrative synthesis of methods was produced. Studies that described a method that could be used for specifying an important and/or realistic difference were included. The search identified 11,485 potentially relevant articles from the databases searched. Of these, 1,434 were selected for full-text assessment, and a further nine were identified from other sources. Fifteen clinical trial textbooks and the ICH tripartite guidelines were also reviewed. In total, 777 studies were included, and within them, seven methods were identified—anchor, distribution, health economic, opinion-seeking, pilot study, review of the evidence base, and standardised effect size.
Conclusions
A variety of methods are available that researchers can use for specifying the target difference in an RCT sample size calculation. Appropriate methods may vary depending on the aim (e.g., specifying an important difference versus a realistic difference), context (e.g., research question and availability of data), and underlying framework adopted (e.g., Bayesian versus conventional statistical approach). Guidance on the use of each method is given. No single method provides a perfect solution for all contexts.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
A clinical trial is a research study in which human volunteers are randomized to receive a given intervention or not, and outcomes are measured in both groups to determine the effect of the intervention. Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) are widely accepted as the preferred study design because by randomly assigning participants to groups, any differences between the two groups, other than the intervention under study, are due to chance. To conduct a RCT, investigators calculate how many patients they need to enroll to determine whether the intervention is effective. The number of patients they need to enroll depends on how effective the intervention is expected to be, or would need to be in order to be clinically important. The assumed difference between the two groups is the target difference. A larger target difference generally means that fewer patients need to be enrolled, relative to a smaller target difference. The target difference and number of patients enrolled contribute to the study's statistical precision, and the ability of the study to determine whether the intervention is effective. Selecting an appropriate target difference is important from both a scientific and ethical standpoint.
Why Was This Study Done?
There are several ways to determine an appropriate target difference. The authors wanted to determine what methods for specifying the target difference are available and when they can be used.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
To identify studies that used a method for determining an important and/or realistic difference, the investigators systematically surveyed the research literature. Two reviewers screened each of the abstracts chosen, and a third reviewer was consulted if necessary. The authors identified seven methods to determine target differences. They evaluated the studies to establish similarities and differences of each application. Points about the strengths and limitations of the method and how frequently the method was chosen were also noted.
What Do these Findings Mean?
The study draws attention to an understudied but important part of designing a clinical trial. Enrolling the right number of patients is very important—too few patients and the study may not be able to answer the study question; too many and the study will be more expensive and more difficult to conduct, and will unnecessarily expose more patients to any study risks. The target difference may also be helpful in interpreting the results of the trial. The authors discuss the pros and cons of different ways to calculate target differences and which methods are best for which types of studies, to help inform researchers designing such studies.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001645.
Wikipedia has an entry on sample size determination that discusses the factors that influence sample size calculation, including the target difference and the statistical power of a study (statistical power is the ability of a study to find a difference between treatments when a true difference exists). (Note: Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit; available in several languages.)
The University of Ottawa has an article that explains how different factors influence the power of a study
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001645
PMCID: PMC4019477  PMID: 24824338
14.  Professional Uncertainty and Disempowerment Responding to Ethnic Diversity in Health Care: A Qualitative Study 
PLoS Medicine  2007;4(11):e323.
Background
While ethnic disparities in health and health care are increasing, evidence on how to enhance quality of care and reduce inequalities remains limited. Despite growth in the scope and application of guidelines on “cultural competence,” remarkably little is known about how practising health professionals experience and perceive their work with patients from diverse ethnic communities. Using cancer care as a clinical context, we aimed to explore this with a range of health professionals to inform interventions to enhance quality of care.
Methods and Findings
We conducted a qualitative study involving 18 focus groups with a purposeful sample of 106 health professionals of differing disciplines, in primary and secondary care settings, working with patient populations of varying ethnic diversity in the Midlands of the UK. Data were analysed by constant comparison and we undertook processes for validation of analysis. We found that, as they sought to offer appropriate care, health professionals wrestled with considerable uncertainty and apprehension in responding to the needs of patients of ethnicities different from their own. They emphasised their perceived ignorance about cultural difference and were anxious about being culturally inappropriate, causing affront, or appearing discriminatory or racist. Professionals' ability to think and act flexibly or creatively faltered. Although trying to do their best, professionals' uncertainty was disempowering, creating a disabling hesitancy and inertia in their practice. Most professionals sought and applied a knowledge-based cultural expertise approach to patients, though some identified the risk of engendering stereotypical expectations of patients. Professionals' uncertainty and disempowerment had the potential to perpetuate each other, to the detriment of patient care.
Conclusions
This study suggests potential mechanisms by which health professionals may inadvertently contribute to ethnic disparities in health care. It identifies critical opportunities to empower health professionals to respond more effectively. Interventions should help professionals acknowledge their uncertainty and its potential to create inertia in their practice. A shift away from a cultural expertise model toward a greater focus on each patient as an individual may help.
From a qualitative study, Joe Kai and colleagues have identified opportunities to empower health professionals to respond more effectively to challenges in their work with patients from diverse ethnic communities.
Editors' Summary
Background.
Communities are increasingly diverse in terms of ethnicity (belonging to a group of people defined by social characteristics such as cultural tradition or national origin) and race (belonging to a group identified by inherited physical characteristics). Although health professionals and governments are striving to ensure that everybody has the same access to health care, there is increasing evidence of ethnic inequalities in health-care outcomes. Some of these inequalities reflect intrinsic differences between groups of people—Ashkenazi Jews, for example, often carry an altered gene that increases their chance of developing aggressive breast cancer. Often, however, these differences reflect inequalities in the health care received by different ethnic groups. To improve this situation, “cultural competence” has been promoted over recent years. Cultural competence is the development of skills by individuals and organizations that allow them to work effectively with people from different cultures. Health professionals are now taught about ethnic differences in health beliefs and practices, religion, and communication styles to help them provide the best service to all their patients.
Why Was This Study Done?
Numerous guidelines aim to improve cultural competency but little is known about how health professionals experience and perceive their work with patients from diverse ethnic groups. Is their behavior influenced by ethnicity in ways that might contribute to health care disparities? For example, do doctors sometimes avoid medical examinations for fear of causing offence because of cultural differences? If more were known about how health professionals handle ethnic diversity (a term used here to include both ethnicity and race) it might be possible to reduce ethnic inequalities in health care. In this qualitative study, the researchers have explored how health professionals involved in cancer care are affected by working with ethnically diverse patients. A qualitative study is one that collects nonquantitative data such as how doctors “feel” about treating people of different ethnic backgrounds; a quantitative study might compare clinical outcomes in different ethnic groups.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers enrolled 106 doctors, nurses, and other health-related professionals from different health-service settings in the Midlands, an ethnically diverse region of the UK. They organized 18 focus groups in which the health professionals described their experiences of caring for people from ethnic minority backgrounds. The participants were encouraged to recall actual cases and to identify what they saw as problems and strengths in their interactions with these patients. The researchers found that the health professionals wrestled with many challenges when providing health care for patients from diverse ethnic backgrounds. These challenges included problems with language and with general communication (for example, deciding when it was acceptable to touch a patient to show empathy). Health professionals also worried they did not know enough about cultural differences. As a result, they said they often felt uncertain of their ability to avoid causing affront or appearing racist. This uncertainty, the researchers report, disempowered the health professionals, sometimes making them hesitate or fail to do what was best for their patient.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings reveal that health professionals often experience considerable uncertainty when caring for ethnically diverse patients, even after training in cultural competency. They also show that this uncertainty can lead to hesitancy and inertia, which might contribute to ethnic health care inequalities. Because the study participants were probably already interested in ethnic diversity and health care, interviews with other health professionals (and investigations of patient experiences) are needed to confirm these findings. Nevertheless, the researchers suggest several interventions that might reduce health care inequalities caused by ethnic diversity. For example, health professionals should be encouraged to recognize their uncertainty and should have access to more information and training about ethnic differences. In addition, there should be a shift in emphasis away from relying on knowledge-based cultural information towards taking an “ethnographic” approach. In other words, health professionals should be helped to feel able to ask their patients about what matters most to them as individuals about their illness and treatment.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0040323.
Information on cultural competence and health care is available from the US National Center for Cultural Competence (in English and Spanish) and DiversityRx
PROCEED (Professionals Responding to Cancer in Ethnic Diversity) is a multimedia training tool for educators within the health and allied professions developed from the results of this study; a press release on PROCEED is available from the University of Nottingham
Transcultural Health Care Practice: An educational resource for nurses and health care practitioners is available on the web site of the UK Royal College of Nursing
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0040323
PMCID: PMC2071935  PMID: 18001148
15.  A realist evaluation of the role of communities of practice in changing healthcare practice 
Background
Healthcare organisations seeking to manage knowledge and improve organisational performance are increasingly investing in communities of practice (CoPs). Such investments are being made in the absence of empirical evidence demonstrating the impact of CoPs in improving the delivery of healthcare. A realist evaluation is proposed to address this knowledge gap. Underpinned by the principle that outcomes are determined by the context in which an intervention is implemented, a realist evaluation is well suited to understand the role of CoPs in improving healthcare practice. By applying a realist approach, this study will explore the following questions: What outcomes do CoPs achieve in healthcare? Do these outcomes translate into improved practice in healthcare? What are the contexts and mechanisms by which CoPs improve healthcare?
Methods
The realist evaluation will be conducted by developing, testing, and refining theories on how, why, and when CoPs improve healthcare practice. When collecting data, context will be defined as the setting in which the CoP operates; mechanisms will be the factors and resources that the community offers to influence a change in behaviour or action; and outcomes will be defined as a change in behaviour or work practice that occurs as a result of accessing resources provided by the CoP.
Discussion
Realist evaluation is being used increasingly to study social interventions where context plays an important role in determining outcomes. This study further enhances the value of realist evaluations by incorporating a social network analysis component to quantify the structural context associated with CoPs. By identifying key mechanisms and contexts that optimise the effectiveness of CoPs, this study will contribute to creating a framework that will guide future establishment and evaluation of CoPs in healthcare.
doi:10.1186/1748-5908-6-49
PMCID: PMC3120719  PMID: 21600057
16.  Uncovering the Benefits of Participatory Research: Implications of a Realist Review for Health Research and Practice 
The Milbank Quarterly  2012;90(2):311-346.
Context
Participatory research (PR) is the co-construction of research through partnerships between researchers and people affected by and/or responsible for action on the issues under study. Evaluating the benefits of PR is challenging for a number of reasons: the research topics, methods, and study designs are heterogeneous; the extent of collaborative involvement may vary over the duration of a project and from one project to the next; and partnership activities may generate a complex array of both short- and long-term outcomes.
Methods
Our review team consisted of a collaboration among researchers and decision makers in public health, research funding, ethics review, and community-engaged scholarship. We identified, selected, and appraised a large-variety sample of primary studies describing PR partnerships, and in each stage, two team members independently reviewed and coded the literature. We used key realist review concepts (middle-range theory, demi-regularity, and context-mechanism-outcome configurations [CMO]) to analyze and synthesize the data, using the PR partnership as the main unit of analysis.
Findings
From 7,167 abstracts and 591 full-text papers, we distilled for synthesis a final sample of twenty-three PR partnerships described in 276 publications. The link between process and outcome in these partnerships was best explained using the middle-range theory of partnership synergy, which demonstrates how PR can (1) ensure culturally and logistically appropriate research, (2) enhance recruitment capacity, (3) generate professional capacity and competence in stakeholder groups, (4) result in productive conflicts followed by useful negotiation, (5) increase the quality of outputs and outcomes over time, (6) increase the sustainability of project goals beyond funded time frames and during gaps in external funding, and (7) create system changes and new unanticipated projects and activities. Negative examples illustrated why these outcomes were not a guaranteed product of PR partnerships but were contingent on key aspects of context.
Conclusions
We used a realist approach to embrace the heterogeneity and complexity of the PR literature. This theory-driven synthesis identified mechanisms by which PR may add value to the research process. Using the middle-range theory of partnership synergy, our review confirmed findings from previous PR reviews, documented and explained some negative outcomes, and generated new insights into the benefits of PR regarding conflicts and negotiation between stakeholders, program sustainability and advancement, unanticipated project activity, and the generation of systemic change.
doi:10.1111/j.1468-0009.2012.00665.x
PMCID: PMC3460206  PMID: 22709390
Participatory research; action research; realist review; systematic review; partnership synergy theory; community-based participatory research
17.  Human resource management interventions to improve health workers' performance in low and middle income countries: a realist review 
Background
Improving health workers' performance is vital for achieving the Millennium Development Goals. In the literature on human resource management (HRM) interventions to improve health workers' performance in Low and Middle Income Countries (LMIC), hardly any attention has been paid to the question how HRM interventions might bring about outcomes and in which contexts. Such information is, however, critical to assess the transferability of results. Our aim was to explore if realist review of published primary research provides better insight into the functioning of HRM interventions in LMIC.
Methodology
A realist review not only asks whether an intervention has shown to be effective, but also through which mechanisms an intervention produces outcomes and which contextual factors appear to be of critical influence. Forty-eight published studies were reviewed.
Results
The results show that HRM interventions can improve health workers' performance, but that different contexts produce different outcomes. Critical implementation aspects were involvement of local authorities, communities and management; adaptation to the local situation; and active involvement of local staff to identify and implement solutions to problems. Mechanisms that triggered change were increased knowledge and skills, feeling obliged to change and health workers' motivation. Mechanisms to contribute to motivation were health workers' awareness of local problems and staff empowerment, gaining acceptance of new information and creating a sense of belonging and respect. In addition, staff was motivated by visible improvements in quality of care and salary supplements. Only a limited variety of HRM interventions have been evaluated in the health sector in LMIC. Assumptions underlying HRM interventions are usually not made explicit, hampering our understanding of how HRM interventions work.
Conclusion
Application of a realist perspective allows identifying which HRM interventions might improve performance, under which circumstances, and for which groups of health workers. To be better able to contribute to an understanding of how HRM interventions could improve health workers' performance, a combination of qualitative and quantitative research methods would be needed and the use of common indicators for evaluation and a common reporting format would be required.
doi:10.1186/1478-4505-7-7
PMCID: PMC2672945  PMID: 19374734
18.  A realist review of interventions and strategies to promote evidence-informed healthcare: a focus on change agency 
Background
Change agency in its various forms is one intervention aimed at improving the effectiveness of the uptake of evidence. Facilitators, knowledge brokers and opinion leaders are examples of change agency strategies used to promote knowledge utilization. This review adopts a realist approach and addresses the following question: What change agency characteristics work, for whom do they work, in what circumstances and why?
Methods
The literature reviewed spanned the period 1997-2007. Change agency was operationalized as roles that are aimed at effecting successful change in individuals and organizations. A theoretical framework, developed through stakeholder consultation formed the basis for a search for relevant literature. Team members, working in sub groups, independently themed the data and developed chains of inference to form a series of hypotheses regarding change agency and the role of change agency in knowledge use.
Results
24, 478 electronic references were initially returned from search strategies. Preliminary screening of the article titles reduced the list of potentially relevant papers to 196. A review of full document versions of potentially relevant papers resulted in a final list of 52 papers. The findings add to the knowledge of change agency as they raise issues pertaining to how change agents’ function, how individual change agent characteristics effect evidence-informed health care, the influence of interaction between the change agent and the setting and the overall effect of change agency on knowledge utilization. Particular issues are raised such as how accessibility of the change agent, their cultural compatibility and their attitude mediate overall effectiveness. Findings also indicate the importance of promoting reflection on practice and role modeling. The findings of this study are limited by the complexity and diversity of the change agency literature, poor indexing of literature and a lack of theory-driven approaches.
Conclusion
This is the first realist review of change agency. Though effectiveness evidence is weak, change agent roles are evolving, as is the literature, which requires more detailed description of interventions, outcomes measures, the context, intensity, and levels at which interventions are implemented in order to understand how change agent interventions effect evidence-informed health care.
doi:10.1186/1748-5908-8-107
PMCID: PMC3848622  PMID: 24010732
Realist synthesis; Evidence-informed health care; Change agency; Facilitators; Opinion leaders; Knowledge brokers’ knowledge utilization
19.  The Influence of Health Systems on Hypertension Awareness, Treatment, and Control: A Systematic Literature Review 
PLoS Medicine  2013;10(7):e1001490.
Will Maimaris and colleagues systematically review the evidence that national or regional health systems, including place of care and medication co-pays, influence hypertension awareness, treatment, and control.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Background
Hypertension (HT) affects an estimated one billion people worldwide, nearly three-quarters of whom live in low- or middle-income countries (LMICs). In both developed and developing countries, only a minority of individuals with HT are adequately treated. The reasons are many but, as with other chronic diseases, they include weaknesses in health systems. We conducted a systematic review of the influence of national or regional health systems on HT awareness, treatment, and control.
Methods and Findings
Eligible studies were those that analyzed the impact of health systems arrangements at the regional or national level on HT awareness, treatment, control, or antihypertensive medication adherence. The following databases were searched on 13th May 2013: Medline, Embase, Global Health, LILACS, Africa-Wide Information, IMSEAR, IMEMR, and WPRIM. There were no date or language restrictions. Two authors independently assessed papers for inclusion, extracted data, and assessed risk of bias. A narrative synthesis of the findings was conducted. Meta-analysis was not conducted due to substantial methodological heterogeneity in included studies. 53 studies were included, 11 of which were carried out in LMICs. Most studies evaluated health system financing and only four evaluated the effect of either human, physical, social, or intellectual resources on HT outcomes. Reduced medication co-payments were associated with improved HT control and treatment adherence, mainly evaluated in US settings. On balance, health insurance coverage was associated with improved outcomes of HT care in US settings. Having a routine place of care or physician was associated with improved HT care.
Conclusions
This review supports the minimization of medication co-payments in health insurance plans, and although studies were largely conducted in the US, the principle is likely to apply more generally. Studies that identify and analyze complexities and links between health systems arrangements and their effects on HT management are required, particularly in LMICs.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
In 2008, one billion people, three-quarters of whom were living in low- and middle-income countries, had high blood pressure (hypertension). Worldwide, hypertension, which rarely has any symptoms, leads to about 7.5 million deaths annually from heart attacks, stroke, other cardiovascular diseases, and kidney disease. Hypertension, selected by the World Health Organization as the theme for World Health Day 2013, is diagnosed by measuring blood pressure, the force that blood circulating in the body exerts on the inside of large blood vessels. Blood pressure is highest when the heart is contracts to pump blood out (systolic blood pressure) and lowest when the heart relaxes and refills (diastolic blood pressure). Normal adult blood pressure is defined as a systolic blood pressure of less than 120 millimeters of mercury (mmHg) and a diastolic blood pressure of less than 80 mmHg (a blood pressure of less than 120/80 mmHg). A blood pressure reading of more than 140/90 mmHg indicates hypertension. Many factors affect blood pressure, but overweight people and individuals who eat fatty or salty foods are at high risk of developing hypertension.
Why Was This Study Done?
Most individuals can achieve good hypertension control, which reduces death and disability from cardiovascular and kidney disease, by making lifestyle changes (mild hypertension) and/or by taking antihypertensive drugs. Yet, in both developed and developing countries, many people with hypertension are not aware of their condition and are not adequately treated. As with other chronic diseases, weaknesses in health care systems probably contribute to the inadequate treatment of hypertension. A health care system comprises all the organizations, institutions, and resources whose primary purpose is to improve health. Weaknesses in health care systems can exist at the national, regional, district, community, and household level. In this systematic review (a study that uses predefined criteria to identify all the research on a given topic), the researchers investigate how national and regional health care system arrangements influence hypertension awareness, treatment, and control. Actions that might influence hypertension care at this level of health care systems include providing treatment for hypertension at no or reduced cost, the introduction of financial incentives to healthcare practitioners for the diagnosis and treatment of hypertension, and enhanced insurance coverage in countries such as the US where people pay for health care through insurance policies.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers identified 53 studies that analyzed whether regional or national health care systems arrangements were associated with patient awareness of hypertension, treatment of hypertension, adherence to antihypertensive medication treatment, and control of hypertension. The researchers used an established conceptual framework for health care systems and an approach called narrative synthesis to analyze the results of these studies, most of which were conducted in the US (36 studies) and other high-income countries (eight studies). Nearly all the studies evaluated the effects of health system financing on hypertension outcomes, although several looked at the effects of delivery and governance of health systems on these outcomes. The researchers' analysis revealed an association between reduced medication co-payments (drug costs that are not covered by health insurance and that are paid by patients in countries without universal free healthcare) and improved hypertension control and treatment adherence, mainly in US settings. In addition, in US settings, health insurance coverage was associated with improved hypertension outcomes, as was having a routine physician or place of care.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that minimizing co-payments for health care and expansion of health insurance coverage in countries without universal free health care may improve the awareness, treatment, and control of hypertension. Although these findings are based mainly on US studies, they are likely to apply more generally but, importantly, these findings indicate that additional, high-quality studies are needed to unravel the impact of health systems arrangements on the management of hypertension. In particular, they reveal few studies in low- and middle-income countries where most of the global burden of hypertension lies and where weaknesses in health systems often result in deficiencies in the care of chronic diseases. Moreover, they highlight a need for studies that evaluate how aspects of health care systems other than financing (for example, delivery and governance mechanisms) and interactions between health care system arrangements affect hypertension outcomes. Without the results of such studies, governments and national and international organizations will not know the best ways to deal effectively with the global public-health crisis posed by hypertension.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001490.
The US National Heart Lung and Blood Institute has patient information about high blood pressure (in English and Spanish)
The American Heart Association provides information on high blood pressure (in several languages) and personal stories about dealing with high blood pressure
The UK National Health Service (NHS) Choices website provides detailed information for patients about hypertension and a personal story about hypertension
The World Health Organization provides information on controlling blood pressure and on health systems (in several languages); its "A Global Brief on Hypertension" was published on World Health Day 2013
MedlinePlus provides links to further information about high blood pressure (in English and Spanish)
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001490
PMCID: PMC3728036  PMID: 23935461
20.  Stroke patients’ utilisation of extrinsic feedback from computer-based technology in the home: a multiple case study realistic evaluation 
Background
Evidence indicates that post − stroke rehabilitation improves function, independence and quality of life. A key aspect of rehabilitation is the provision of appropriate information and feedback to the learner.
Advances in information and communications technology (ICT) have allowed for the development of various systems to complement stroke rehabilitation that could be used in the home setting. These systems may increase the provision of rehabilitation a stroke survivor receives and carries out, as well as providing a learning platform that facilitates long-term self-managed rehabilitation and behaviour change. This paper describes the application of an innovative evaluative methodology to explore the utilisation of feedback for post-stroke upper-limb rehabilitation in the home.
Methods
Using the principles of realistic evaluation, this study aimed to test and refine intervention theories by exploring the complex interactions of contexts, mechanisms and outcomes that arise from technology deployment in the home. Methods included focus groups followed by multi-method case studies (n = 5) before, during and after the use of computer-based equipment. Data were analysed in relation to the context-mechanism-outcome hypotheses case by case. This was followed by a synthesis of the findings to answer the question, ‘what works for whom and in what circumstances and respects?’
Results
Data analysis reveals that to achieve desired outcomes through the use of ICT, key elements of computer feedback, such as accuracy, measurability, rewarding feedback, adaptability, and knowledge of results feedback, are required to trigger the theory-driven mechanisms underpinning the intervention. In addition, the pre-existing context and the personal and environmental contexts, such as previous experience of service delivery, personal goals, trust in the technology, and social circumstances may also enable or constrain the underpinning theory-driven mechanisms.
Conclusions
Findings suggest that the theory-driven mechanisms underpinning the utilisation of feedback from computer-based technology for home-based upper-limb post-stroke rehabilitation are dependent on key elements of computer feedback and the personal and environmental context. The identification of these elements may therefore inform the development of technology; therapy education and the subsequent adoption of technology and a self-management paradigm; long-term self-managed rehabilitation; and importantly, improvements in the physical and psychosocial aspects of recovery.
doi:10.1186/1472-6947-14-46
PMCID: PMC4070341  PMID: 24903401
21.  A self-evaluation tool for integrated care services: the Development Model for Integrated Care applied in practice 
Purpose
The purpose of the workshop is to show the applications of the Development Model for Integrated Care (DMIC) in practice. This relatively new and validated model, can be used by integrated care practices to evaluate their integrated care, to assess their phase of development and reveal improvement areas. In the workshop the results of the use of the model in three types of integrated care settings in the Netherlands will be presented. Participants are offered practical instruments based on the validated DMIC to use in their own setting and will be introduced to the webbased tool.
Context
To integrate care from multiple providers into a coherent and streamlined client-focused service, a large number of activities and agreements have to be implemented like streamlining information flows and adequate transfers of clients. In the large range of possible activities it is often not clear what essential activities are and where to start or continue. Also, knowledge about how to further develop integrated care services is needed. The Development Model for Integrated Care (DMIC), based on PhD research of Mirella Minkman, describes nine clusters containing in total 89 elements that contribute to the integration of care. The clusters are named: ‘client-centeredness’, ‘delivery system’, ‘performance management’, ‘quality of care’, ‘result-focused learning’, ‘interprofessional teamwork’, ‘roles and tasks’, ‘commitment’, and ‘transparant entrepreneurship’ [1–3]. In 2011 a new digital webbased self-evolution tool which contains the 89 elements grouped in nine clusters was developed. The DMIC also describes four phases of development [4]. The model is empirically validated in practice by assessing the relevance and implementation of the elements and development phases in 84 integrated care services in The Netherlands: in stroke, acute myocardial infarct (AMI), and dementia services. The validation studies are recently published [5, 6]. In 2011 also other integrated care services started using the model [7]. Vilans developed a digital web-based self-evaluation tool for integrated care services based on the DMIC. A palliative care network, four diabetes services, a youth care service and a network for autism used the self-evaluation tool to evaluate the development of their integrated care service. Because of its generic character, the model and tool are believed to be also interesting internationally.
Data sources
In the workshop we will present the results of three studies in integrated diabetes, youth and palliative care. The three projects consist of multiple steps, see below. Workshop participants could also work with the DMIC following these steps.
One: Preparation of the digital self-evolution tool for integrated care services
Although they are very different, the three integrated care services all wanted to gain insight in their development and improvement opportunities. We tailored the digital self-evaluation tool for each specific integrated care services, but for all the basis was the DMIC. Personal accounts for the digital DMIC self-evalution survey were sent to multiple partners working in each integrated care service (4–16 partners).
Two: Use of the online self-evaluation tool each partner of the local integrated care setting evaluated the integrated care by filling in the web-based questionnaire. The tool consists of three parts (A-C) named: general information about the integrated care practice (A); the clusters and elements of the DMIC (B); and the four phases of development (C). The respondents rated the relevance and presence of each element in their integrated care practice. Respondents were asked to estimate in which phase of development their thought their service was.
Three: Analysing the results
Advisers from Vilans, the Centre of excellence for long-term care in the Netherlands, analysed the self-evolution results in cooperation with the integrated care coordinators. The results show the total amount of implemented integrated care elements per cluster in spider graphs and the development phase as calculated by the DMIC model. Suggestions for further development of the integrated care services were analysed and reported.
Four: Discussing the implications for further development
In a workshop with the local integrated care partners the results of the self-evaluation were presented and discussed. We noticed remarkable results and highlight elements for further development. In addition, we gave advice for further development appropriate to the development phase of the integrated care service. Furthermore, the professionals prioritized the elements and decided which elements to start working on. This resulted in a (quality improvement) plan for the further development of the integrated care service.
Five: Reporting results
In a report all the results of the survey (including consensus scores) and the workshops came together. The integrated care coordinators stated that the reports really helped them to assess their improvement strategy. Also, there was insight in the development phase of their service which gave tools for further development.
Case description
The three cases presented are a palliative network, an integrated diabetes services and an integrated care network for youth in the Netherlands. The palliative care network wanted to reflect on their current development, to build a guiding framework for further development of the network. About sixteen professionals within the network worked with the digital self-evaluation tool and the DMIC: home care organisations, welfare organizations, hospice centres, health care organisations, community organizations.
For diabetes care, a Dutch health care insurance company wished to gain insight in the development of the contracted integrated care services to stimulate further development of the services. Professionals of three diabetes integrated care services were invited to fill in the digital self-evaluation tool. Of each integrated care service professionals like a general practitioner, a diabetes nurse, a medical specialist, a dietician and a podiatrist were invited. In youth care, a local health organisation wondered whether the DMIC could be helpful to visualize the results of youth integrated care services at process- and organisational level. The goal of the project was to define indicators at a process- and organisational level for youth care services based on the DMIC. In the future, these indicators might be used to evaluate youth care integrated care services and improve the quality of youth care within the Netherlands.
Conclusions and discussion
It is important for the quality of integrated care services that the involved coordinators, managers and professionals are aware of the development process of the integrated care service and that they focus on elements which can further develop and improve their integrated care. However, we noticed that integrated care services in the Netherlands experience difficulties in developing their integrated care service. It is often not clear what essential activities are to work on and how to further develop the integrated care service. A guiding framework for the development of integrated care was missing. The DMIC model has been developed for that reason and offers a useful tool for assessment, self-evaluation or improvement of integrated care services in practice. The model has been validated for AMI, dementia and stroke services. The latest new studies in diabetes, palliative care and youth care gave further insight in the generic character of the DMIC. Based on these studies it can be assumed that the DMIC can be used for multiple types of integrated care services. The model is assumed to be interesting for an international audience. Improving integrated care is a complex topic in a large number of countries; the DMIC is also based on the international literature. Dutch integrated care coordinators stated that the DMIC helped them to assess their integrated care development in practice and supported them in obtaining ideas for expanding and improving their integrated care activities.
The web-based self-evaluation tool focuses on a process- and organisational level of integrated care. Also, the self assessed development phase can be compared to the development phase as calculated by the DMIC tool. The cases showed this is fruitful input for discussions. When using the tool, the results can also be used in quality policy reports and improvement plans. The web-based tool is being tested at this moment in practice, but in San Marino we can present the latest webversion and demonstrate with a short video how to use the tool and model. During practical exercises in the workshop the participants will experience how the application of the DMIC can work for them in practice or in research. For integrated care researchers and policy makers, the DMIC questionnaire and tool is a promising method for further research and policy plans in integrated care.
PMCID: PMC3617779
development model for integrated care; development of integrated care services; implementation and improvement of integrated care; self evaluation
22.  RAMESES publication standards: realist syntheses 
BMC Medicine  2013;11:21.
Background
There is growing interest in realist synthesis as an alternative systematic review method. This approach offers the potential to expand the knowledge base in policy-relevant areas - for example, by explaining the success, failure or mixed fortunes of complex interventions. No previous publication standards exist for reporting realist syntheses. This standard was developed as part of the RAMESES (Realist And MEta-narrative Evidence Syntheses: Evolving Standards) project. The project's aim is to produce preliminary publication standards for realist systematic reviews.
Methods
We (a) collated and summarized existing literature on the principles of good practice in realist syntheses; (b) considered the extent to which these principles had been followed by published syntheses, thereby identifying how rigor may be lost and how existing methods could be improved; (c) used a three-round online Delphi method with an interdisciplinary panel of national and international experts in evidence synthesis, realist research, policy and/or publishing to produce and iteratively refine a draft set of methodological steps and publication standards; (d) provided real-time support to ongoing realist syntheses and the open-access RAMESES online discussion list so as to capture problems and questions as they arose; and (e) synthesized expert input, evidence syntheses and real-time problem analysis into a definitive set of standards.
Results
We identified 35 published realist syntheses, provided real-time support to 9 on-going syntheses and captured questions raised in the RAMESES discussion list. Through analysis and discussion within the project team, we summarized the published literature and common questions and challenges into briefing materials for the Delphi panel, comprising 37 members. Within three rounds this panel had reached consensus on 19 key publication standards, with an overall response rate of 91%.
Conclusion
This project used multiple sources to develop and draw together evidence and expertise in realist synthesis. For each item we have included an explanation for why it is important and guidance on how it might be reported. Realist synthesis is a relatively new method for evidence synthesis and as experience and methodological developments occur, we anticipate that these standards will evolve to reflect further methodological developments. We hope that these standards will act as a resource that will contribute to improving the reporting of realist syntheses.
To encourage dissemination of the RAMESES publication standards, this article is co-published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing and is freely accessible on Wiley Online Library (http://www.wileyonlinelibrary.com/journal/jan).
Please see related article http://www.biomedcentral.com/1741-7015/11/20 and http://www.biomedcentral.com/1741-7015/11/22
doi:10.1186/1741-7015-11-21
PMCID: PMC3558331  PMID: 23360677
realist synthesis; realist review; publication standards
23.  A realist evaluation of the management of a well- performing regional hospital in Ghana 
Background
Realist evaluation offers an interesting approach to evaluation of interventions in complex settings, but has been little applied in health care. We report on a realist case study of a well performing hospital in Ghana and show how such a realist evaluation design can help to overcome the limited external validity of a traditional case study.
Methods
We developed a realist evaluation framework for hypothesis formulation, data collection, data analysis and synthesis of the findings. Focusing on the role of human resource management in hospital performance, we formulated our hypothesis around the high commitment management concept. Mixed methods were used in data collection, including individual and group interviews, observations and document reviews.
Results
We found that the human resource management approach (the actual intervention) included induction of new staff, training and personal development, good communication and information sharing, and decentralised decision-making. We identified 3 additional practices: ensuring optimal physical working conditions, access to top managers and managers' involvement on the work floor. Teamwork, recognition and trust emerged as key elements of the organisational climate. Interviewees reported high levels of organisational commitment. The analysis unearthed perceived organisational support and reciprocity as underlying mechanisms that link the management practices with commitment.
Methodologically, we found that realist evaluation can be fruitfully used to develop detailed case studies that analyse how management interventions work and in which conditions. Analysing the links between intervention, mechanism and outcome increases the explaining power, while identification of essential context elements improves the usefulness of the findings for decision-makers in other settings (external validity). We also identified a number of practical difficulties and priorities for further methodological development.
Conclusion
This case suggests that a well-balanced HRM bundle can stimulate organisational commitment of health workers. Such practices can be implemented even with narrow decision spaces. Realist evaluation provides an appropriate approach to increase the usefulness of case studies to managers and policymakers.
doi:10.1186/1472-6963-10-24
PMCID: PMC2828434  PMID: 20100330
24.  Realist synthesis: illustrating the method for implementation research 
Background
Realist synthesis is an increasingly popular approach to the review and synthesis of evidence, which focuses on understanding the mechanisms by which an intervention works (or not). There are few published examples of realist synthesis. This paper therefore fills a gap by describing, in detail, the process used for a realist review and synthesis to answer the question ‘what interventions and strategies are effective in enabling evidence-informed healthcare?’ The strengths and challenges of conducting realist review are also considered.
Methods
The realist approach involves identifying underlying causal mechanisms and exploring how they work under what conditions. The stages of this review included: defining the scope of the review (concept mining and framework formulation); searching for and scrutinising the evidence; extracting and synthesising the evidence; and developing the narrative, including hypotheses.
Results
Based on key terms and concepts related to various interventions to promote evidence-informed healthcare, we developed an outcome-focused theoretical framework. Questions were tailored for each of four theory/intervention areas within the theoretical framework and were used to guide development of a review and data extraction process. The search for literature within our first theory area, change agency, was executed and the screening procedure resulted in inclusion of 52 papers. Using the questions relevant to this theory area, data were extracted by one reviewer and validated by a second reviewer. Synthesis involved organisation of extracted data into evidence tables, theming and formulation of chains of inference, linking between the chains of inference, and hypothesis formulation. The narrative was developed around the hypotheses generated within the change agency theory area.
Conclusions
Realist synthesis lends itself to the review of complex interventions because it accounts for context as well as outcomes in the process of systematically and transparently synthesising relevant literature. While realist synthesis demands flexible thinking and the ability to deal with complexity, the rewards include the potential for more pragmatic conclusions than alternative approaches to systematic reviewing. A separate publication will report the findings of the review.
doi:10.1186/1748-5908-7-33
PMCID: PMC3514310  PMID: 22515663
25.  Hospital Performance, the Local Economy, and the Local Workforce: Findings from a US National Longitudinal Study 
PLoS Medicine  2010;7(6):e1000297.
Blustein and colleagues examine the associations between changes in hospital performance and their local economic resources. Locationally disadvantaged hospitals perform poorly on key indicators, raising concerns that pay-for-performance models may not reduce inequality.
Background
Pay-for-performance is an increasingly popular approach to improving health care quality, and the US government will soon implement pay-for-performance in hospitals nationwide. Yet hospital capacity to perform (and improve performance) likely depends on local resources. In this study, we quantify the association between hospital performance and local economic and human resources, and describe possible implications of pay-for-performance for socioeconomic equity.
Methods and Findings
We applied county-level measures of local economic and workforce resources to a national sample of US hospitals (n = 2,705), during the period 2004–2007. We analyzed performance for two common cardiac conditions (acute myocardial infarction [AMI] and heart failure [HF]), using process-of-care measures from the Hospital Quality Alliance [HQA], and isolated temporal trends and the contributions of individual resource dimensions on performance, using multivariable mixed models. Performance scores were translated into net scores for hospitals using the Performance Assessment Model, which has been suggested as a basis for reimbursement under Medicare's “Value-Based Purchasing” program. Our analyses showed that hospital performance is substantially associated with local economic and workforce resources. For example, for HF in 2004, hospitals located in counties with longstanding poverty had mean HQA composite scores of 73.0, compared with a mean of 84.1 for hospitals in counties without longstanding poverty (p<0.001). Hospitals located in counties in the lowest quartile with respect to college graduates in the workforce had mean HQA composite scores of 76.7, compared with a mean of 86.2 for hospitals in the highest quartile (p<0.001). Performance on AMI measures showed similar patterns. Performance improved generally over the study period. Nevertheless, by 2007—4 years after public reporting began—hospitals in locationally disadvantaged areas still lagged behind their locationally advantaged counterparts. This lag translated into substantially lower net scores under the Performance Assessment Model for hospital reimbursement.
Conclusions
Hospital performance on clinical process measures is associated with the quantity and quality of local economic and human resources. Medicare's hospital pay-for-performance program may exacerbate inequalities across regions, if implemented as currently proposed. Policymakers in the US and beyond may need to take into consideration the balance between greater efficiency through pay-for-performance and socioeconomic equity.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
These days, many people are rewarded for working hard and efficiently by being given bonuses when they reach preset performance targets. With a rapidly aging population and rising health care costs, policy makers in many developed countries are considering ways of maximizing value for money, including rewarding health care providers when they meet targets, under “pay-for-performance.” In the UK, for example, a major pay-for-performance initiative—the Quality and Outcomes Framework—began in 2004. All the country's general practices (primary health care facilities that deal with all medical ailments) now detail their achievements in terms of numerous clinical quality indicators for common chronic conditions (for example, the regularity of blood sugar checks for people with diabetes). They are then rewarded on the basis of these results.
Why Was This Study Done?
In the US, the government is poised to implement a nationwide pay-for-performance program in hospitals within Medicare, the government program that provides health insurance to Americans aged 65 years or older, as well as people with disabilities. However, some observers are concerned about the effect that the proposed pay-for-performance program might have on the distribution of health care resources in the US. Pay-for-performance assumes that health care providers have the economic and human resources that they need to perform or to improve their performance. But, if a hospital's capacity to perform depends on local resources, payment based on performance might worsen existing health care inequalities because hospitals in under-resourced areas might lose funds to hospitals in more affluent regions. In other words, the government might act as a reverse Robin Hood, taking from the poor and giving to the rich. In this study, the researchers examine the association between hospital performance and local economic and human resources, to explore whether this scenario is a plausible result of the pending change in US hospital reimbursement.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
US hospitals have voluntarily reported their performance on indicators of clinical care (“process-of-care measures”) for acute myocardial infarction (AMI, heart attack), heart failure (HF), and pneumonia under the Hospital Quality Alliance (HQA) program since 2004. The researchers identified 2,705 hospitals that had fully reported process-of-care measures for AMI and HF in both 2004 and 2007. They then used the “Performance Assessment Model” (a methodology developed by the US Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to score hospital performance) to calculate scores for each hospital. Finally, they looked for associations between these scores and measures of the hospital's local economic and human resources such as population poverty levels and the percentage of college graduates in the workforce. Hospital performance was associated with local and economic workforce capacity, they report. Thus, hospitals in counties with longstanding poverty had lower average performance scores for HF and AMI than hospitals in affluent counties. Similarly, hospitals in counties with a low percentage of college graduates in the workforce had lower average performance scores than hospitals in counties where more of the workforce had been to college. Finally, although performance improved generally over the study period, hospitals in disadvantaged areas still lagged behind hospitals in advantaged areas in 2007.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that hospital performance (as measured by the clinical process measures considered here) is associated with the quantity and quality of local human and economic resources. Thus, the proposed Medicare hospital pay-for-performance program may exacerbate existing US health care inequalities by leading to the transfer of funds from hospitals in disadvantaged locations to those in advantaged locations. Although further studies are needed to confirm this conclusion, these findings have important implications for pay-for-performance programs in health care. They suggest that US policy makers may need to modify how they measure performance improvement—the current Performance Assessment Model gives hospitals that start from a low baseline less credit for improvements than those that start from a high baseline. This works against hospitals in disadvantaged locations, which start at a low baseline. Second and more generally, they suggest that there may be a tension between the efficiency goals of pay-for-performance and other equity goals of health care systems. In a world where resources vary across regions, the expectation that regions can perform equally may not be realistic.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000297.
KaiserEDU.org is an online resource for learning about the US health care system. It includes educational modules on such topics as the Medicare program and efforts to improve the quality of care
The Hospital Quality Alliance provides information on the quality of care in US hospitals
Information about the UK National Health Service Quality and Outcomes Framework pay-for-performance initiative for general practice surgeries is available
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000297
PMCID: PMC2893955  PMID: 20613863

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