Background: Healthcare service innovations are considered to play a pivotal role in improving organisational efficiency and responding effectively to healthcare needs. Nevertheless, healthcare organisations encounter major difficulties in sustaining and diffusing innovations, especially those which concern the organisation and delivery of healthcare services. The purpose of the present study was to explore how healthcare innovators of process-based initiatives perceived and made sense of factors that either facilitated or obstructed the innovation implementation and diffusion.
Methods: A qualitative study was designed. Fifteen primary and secondary healthcare organisations in the UK, which had received health service awards for successfully generating and implementing service innovations, were studied. In-depth, semi structured interviews were conducted with the organisational representatives who conceived and led the development process. The data were recorded, transcribed and thematically analysed.
Results: Four main themes were identified in the analysis of the data: the role of evidence, the function of inter-organisational partnerships, the influence of human-based resources, and the impact of contextual factors. "Hard" evidence operated as a proof of effectiveness, a means of dissemination and a pre-requisite for the initiation of innovation. Inter-organisational partnerships and people-based resources, such as champions, were considered an integral part of the process of developing, establishing and diffusing the innovations. Finally, contextual influences, both intra-organisational and extra-organisational were seen as critical in either impeding or facilitating innovators' efforts.
Conclusions: A range of factors of different combinations and co-occurrence were pointed out by the innovators as they were reflecting on their experiences of implementing, stabilising and diffusing novel service initiatives. Even though the innovations studied were of various contents and originated from diverse organisational contexts, innovators' accounts converged to the significant role of the evidential base of success, the inter-personal and inter-organisational networks, and the inner and outer context. The innovators, operating themselves as important champions and being often willing to lead constructive efforts of implementation to different contexts, can contribute to the promulgation and spread of the novelties significantly.