Objectives: To improve access to specialist outpatient clinics without adding capacity, Dutch hospitals applied the concept of 'Advanced Access'. Our aim was to determine whether initial improvements are sustained for three years and to identify the factors that influence sustainability.
Methods: Qualitative case studies in 14 outpatient specialist clinics. Access measurements at the start, finish and three years after the project were compared. Analysis of sustained and new interventions. Interviews with 52 practitioners, analysed with the constant comparative method to identify general factors that influence sustainability.
Results: Eleven out of 14 clinics were able to sustain or improve their reduced delays; two did not and for one it is uncertain. The clinics maintained the majority of the interventions and all introduced new interventions. Three generic factors emerged that influenced their ability to sustain the results: increased responsiveness to better match supply and demand; clinical leadership and incentives; and a shared belief that they can and should control access together.
Conclusions: Reduction of delays in access can be sustained if the way of thinking and the planning system becomes demand driven and flexible and if care providers experience benefits. Unlike previous studies, senior management support and formal training was not relevant though clinical leadership and informal socialization was. Making multidisciplinary teams responsible for improvement appears to be vital.
Keywords: management; operational research; quality improvement.