Background: Clinical networks are increasingly being viewed as an important strategy for increasing evidence-based practice and improving models of care, but success is variable and characteristics of networks with high impact are uncertain. This study takes advantage of the variability in the functioning and outcomes of networks supported by the Australian New South Wales (NSW) Agency for Clinical Innovation's non-mandatory model of clinical networks to investigate the factors that contribute to the success of clinical networks.
Methods/design: The objective of this retrospective study is to examine the association between external support, organisational and program factors, and indicators of success among 19 clinical networks over a three-year period (2006-2008). The outcomes (health impact, system impact, programs implemented, engagement, user perception, and financial leverage) and explanatory factors will be collected using a web-based survey, interviews, and record review. An independent expert panel will provide judgements about the impact or extent of each network's initiatives on health and system impacts. The ratings of the expert panel will be the outcome used in multivariable analyses. Following the rating of network success, a qualitative study will be conducted to provide a more in-depth examination of the most successful networks.
Discussion: This is the first study to combine quantitative and qualitative methods to examine the factors that contribute to the success of clinical networks and, more generally, is the largest study of clinical networks undertaken. The adaptation of expert panel methods to rate the impacts of networks is the methodological innovation of this study. The proposed project will identify the conditions that should be established or encouraged by agencies developing clinical networks and will be of immediate use in forming strategies and programs to maximise the effectiveness of such networks.