Background: Incorporating shared medical appointments (SMAs) or group visits into clinical practice to improve care and increase efficiency has become a popular intervention, but the processes to implement and sustain them have not been well described. The purpose of this study was to describe the process of implementation of SMAs in the local context of a primary care clinic over time.
Methods: The setting was a primary care clinic of an urban academic medical center of the Veterans Health Administration. We performed an in-depth case analysis utilizing both an innovations framework and a nested systems framework approach. This analysis helped organize and summarize implementation and sustainability issues, specifically: the pre-SMA local context; the processes of tailoring and implementation of the intervention; and the evolution and sustainability of the intervention and its context.
Results: Both the improvement intervention and the local context co-adapted and evolved during implementation, ensuring sustainability. The most important promoting factors were the formation of a core team committed to quality and improvement, and the clinic leadership that was supported strongly by the team members. Tailoring had to also take into account key innovation-hindering factors, including limited resources (such as space), potential to alter longstanding patient-provider relationships, and organizational silos (disconnected groups) with core team members reporting to different supervisors.
Conclusion: Although interventions must be designed to meet the needs of the sites in which they are implemented, specific guidance tailored to the practice environment was lacking. SMAs require complex changes that impact on care routines, collaborations, and various organizational levels. Although the SMA was not envisioned originally as a form of system redesign that would alter the context in which it was implemented, it became clear that tailoring the intervention alone would not ensure sustainability, and therefore adjustments to the system were required. The innovation necessitated reconfiguring some aspects of the primary care clinic itself and other services from which the patients and the team were derived. In addition, the relationships among different parts of the system were altered.