Understanding the implementation of evidence-based care: a structural network approach

Implement Sci. 2011 Feb 24;6:14. doi: 10.1186/1748-5908-6-14.


Background: Recent study of complex networks has yielded many new insights into phenomenon such as social networks, the internet, and sexually transmitted infections. The purpose of this analysis is to examine the properties of a network created by the 'co-care' of patients within one region of the Veterans Health Affairs.

Methods: Data were obtained for all outpatient visits from 1 October 2006 to 30 September 2008 within one large Veterans Integrated Service Network. Types of physician within each clinic were nodes connected by shared patients, with a weighted link representing the number of shared patients between each connected pair. Network metrics calculated included edge weights, node degree, node strength, node coreness, and node betweenness. Log-log plots were used to examine the distribution of these metrics. Sizes of k-core networks were also computed under multiple conditions of node removal.

Results: There were 4,310,465 encounters by 266,710 shared patients between 722 provider types (nodes) across 41 stations or clinics resulting in 34,390 edges. The number of other nodes to which primary care provider nodes have a connection (172.7) is 42% greater than that of general surgeons and two and one-half times as high as cardiology. The log-log plot of the edge weight distribution appears to be linear in nature, revealing a 'scale-free' characteristic of the network, while the distributions of node degree and node strength are less so. The analysis of the k-core network sizes under increasing removal of primary care nodes shows that about 10 most connected primary care nodes play a critical role in keeping the k-core networks connected, because their removal disintegrates the highest k-core network.

Conclusions: Delivery of healthcare in a large healthcare system such as that of the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) can be represented as a complex network. This network consists of highly connected provider nodes that serve as 'hubs' within the network, and demonstrates some 'scale-free' properties. By using currently available tools to explore its topology, we can explore how the underlying connectivity of such a system affects the behavior of providers, and perhaps leverage that understanding to improve quality and outcomes of care.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Delivery of Health Care, Integrated / organization & administration*
  • Diffusion of Innovation
  • Evidence-Based Medicine*
  • Health Services Research
  • Humans
  • Models, Statistical
  • Quality of Health Care
  • Social Support*
  • United States
  • United States Department of Veterans Affairs / organization & administration*