Social network analysis in healthcare settings: a systematic scoping review

PLoS One. 2012;7(8):e41911. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0041911. Epub 2012 Aug 3.


Background: Social network analysis (SNA) has been widely used across a range of disciplines but is most commonly applied to help improve the effectiveness and efficiency of decision making processes in commercial organisations. We are utilising SNA to inform the development and implementation of tailored behaviour-change interventions to improve the uptake of evidence into practice in the English National Health Service. To inform this work, we conducted a systematic scoping review to identify and evaluate the use of SNA as part of an intervention to support the implementation of change in healthcare settings.

Methods and findings: We searched ten bibliographic databases to October 2011. We also searched reference lists, hand searched selected journals and websites, and contacted experts in the field. To be eligible for the review, studies had to describe and report the results of an SNA performed with healthcare professionals (e.g. doctors, nurses, pharmacists, radiographers etc.) and others involved in their professional social networks. We included 52 completed studies, reported in 62 publications. Almost all of the studies were limited to cross sectional descriptions of networks; only one involved using the results of the SNA as part of an intervention to change practice.

Conclusions: We found very little evidence for the potential of SNA being realised in healthcare settings. However, it seems unlikely that networks are less important in healthcare than other settings. Future research should seek to go beyond the merely descriptive to implement and evaluate SNA-based interventions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • England
  • Health Personnel / organization & administration*
  • Health Personnel / trends
  • Humans
  • National Health Programs / organization & administration*
  • National Health Programs / standards
  • National Health Programs / trends
  • Social Support*

Grant support

This work was done as part of the Translating Research into Practice in Leeds and Bradford project funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) as part of the Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care (CLAHRC) for Leeds, York, and Bradford. The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the NIHR or the CLAHRC. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.