Background: Although the BTS-SIGN asthma guideline is one of the most well known and widely respected guidelines in the world, implementation in UK primary care remains patchy. Building on extensive earlier descriptive work, we sought to explore the way teamwork and inter-professional relationships impact on the implementation of the BTS-SIGN guideline on asthma in general practice.
Methods: Qualitative comparative case study using nine in-depth interviews and 2 focus groups with general practitioners and practice nurses, involved in delivering asthma care. Participants were purposively recruited from practices in a Scottish health board with high and low compliance with the BTS-SIGN asthma guideline.
Results: There was a marked difference in the way respondents from practices with high compliance and respondents from practices with low compliance spoke about the value of guidelines and the challenges of implementing them. On both accounts, the former were more positive than the latter and were able to be more specific about the strategies they used to overcome barriers to implementation. We explored the reason for this difference in response and identified practice organisation, centring on delegation of work to nurses, as a factor mediating the practice's level of compliance. Effective delegation was underpinned by organisation of asthma work among practice members who have the appropriate level of skills and knowledge, know and understand each others' work and responsibilities, communicate well among themselves and trust each others' skills. It was the combination of these factors which made for successful delegation and guideline implementation, not any one factor in isolation.
Conclusion: In our sample of practices, teamwork and organisation of care within practices appeared to impact on guideline implementation and further larger studies are needed to explore this issue further. Isolated interventions such as measures to improve staff's knowledge or increased clinical resource and time, which are currently being considered, are unlikely to be effective unless practices are supported in developing their teams in a way which supports the deployment of these resources.