Background: Bridging the knowledge-to-practice gap in health care is an important issue that has gained interest in recent years. Implementing new methods, guidelines or tools into routine care, however, is a slow and unpredictable process, and the factors that play a role in the change process are not yet fully understood. There is a number of theories concerned with factors predicting successful implementation in various settings, however, this issue is insufficiently studied in primary health care (PHC). The objective of this article was to apply implementation theory to identify key factors influencing the adoption of an innovation being introduced in PHC in Sweden.
Methods: A qualitative study was carried out with staff at six PHC units in Sweden where a computer-based test for lifestyle intervention had been implemented. Two different implementation strategies, implicit or explicit, were used. Sixteen focus group interviews and two individual interviews were performed. In the analysis a theoretical framework based on studies of implementation in health service organizations, was applied to identify key factors influencing adoption.
Results: The theoretical framework proved to be relevant for studies in PHC. Adoption was positively influenced by positive expectations at the unit, perceptions of the innovation being compatible with existing routines and perceived advantages. An explicit implementation strategy and positive opinions on change and innovation were also associated with adoption. Organizational changes and staff shortages coinciding with implementation seemed to be obstacles for the adoption process.
Conclusion: When implementation theory obtained from studies in other areas was applied in PHC it proved to be relevant for this particular setting. Based on our results, factors to be taken into account in the planning of the implementation of a new tool in PHC should include assessment of staff expectations, assessment of the perceived need for the innovation to be implemented, and of its potential compatibility with existing routines. Regarding context, we suggest that implementation concurrent with other major organizational changes should be avoided. The choice of implementation strategy should be given thorough consideration.