Ethnographic process evaluation in primary care: explaining the complexity of implementation

BMC Health Serv Res. 2014 Dec 5;14:607. doi: 10.1186/s12913-014-0607-0.

Abstract

Background: The recent growth of implementation research in care delivery systems has led to a renewed interest in methodological approaches that deliver not only intervention outcome data but also deep understanding of the complex dynamics underlying the implementation process. We suggest that an ethnographic approach to process evaluation, when informed by and integrated with quantitative data, can provide this nuanced insight into intervention outcomes. The specific methods used in such ethnographic process evaluations are rarely presented in detail; our objective is to stimulate a conversation around the successes and challenges of specific data collection methods in health care settings. We use the example of a translational clinical trial among 11 community clinics in Portland, OR that are implementing an evidence-based, health-information technology (HIT)-based intervention focused on patients with diabetes.

Discussion: Our ethnographic process evaluation employed weekly diaries by clinic-based study employees, observation, informal and formal interviews, document review, surveys, and group discussions to identify barriers and facilitators to implementation success, provide insight into the quantitative study outcomes, and uncover lessons potentially transferable to other implementation projects. These methods captured the depth and breadth of factors contributing to intervention uptake, while minimizing disruption to clinic work and supporting mid-stream shifts in implementation strategies. A major challenge is the amount of dedicated researcher time required. The deep understanding of the 'how' and 'why' behind intervention outcomes that can be gained through an ethnographic approach improves the credibility and transferability of study findings. We encourage others to share their own experiences with ethnography in implementation evaluation and health services research, and to consider adapting the methods and tools described here for their own research.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Anthropology, Cultural*
  • Health Services Research*
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Medical Informatics
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care
  • Primary Health Care*
  • Process Assessment, Health Care*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Surveys and Questionnaires