Rapid spread of complex change: a case study in inpatient palliative care

BMC Health Serv Res. 2009 Dec 29;9:245. doi: 10.1186/1472-6963-9-245.


Background: Based on positive findings from a randomized controlled trial, Kaiser Permanente's national executive leadership group set an expectation that all Kaiser Permanente and partner hospitals would implement a consultative model of interdisciplinary, inpatient-based palliative care (IPC). Within one year, the number of IPC consultations program-wide increased almost tenfold from baseline, and the number of teams nearly doubled. We report here results from a qualitative evaluation of the IPC initiative after a year of implementation; our purpose was to understand factors supporting or impeding the rapid and consistent spread of a complex program.

Methods: Quality improvement study using a case study design and qualitative analysis of in-depth semi-structured interviews with 36 national, regional, and local leaders.

Results: Compelling evidence of impacts on patient satisfaction and quality of care generated 'pull' among adopters, expressed as a remarkably high degree of conviction about the value of the model. Broad leadership agreement gave rise to sponsorship and support that permeated the organization. A robust social network promoted knowledge exchange and built on an existing network with a strong interest in palliative care. Resource constraints, pre-existing programs of a different model, and ambiguous accountability for implementation impeded spread.

Conclusions: A complex, hospital-based, interdisciplinary intervention in a large health care organization spread rapidly due to a synergy between organizational 'push' strategies and grassroots-level pull. The combination of push and pull may be especially important when the organizational context or the practice to be spread is complex.

MeSH terms

  • Diffusion of Innovation*
  • Health Maintenance Organizations / organization & administration*
  • Hospitalization*
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Organizational Case Studies
  • Organizational Innovation
  • Palliative Care / organization & administration*
  • Patient Satisfaction
  • Program Evaluation
  • United States