Background: Increased demand and escalating costs necessitate innovation in health care. The challenge is to implement complex innovations-those that require coordinated use across the adopting organization to have the intended benefits.
Purpose: We wanted to understand why and how two of five similar hospitals associated with the same health care authority made more progress with implementing a complex inpatient discharge innovation whereas the other three experienced more difficulties in doing so.
Methodology: We conducted a qualitative comparative case study of the implementation process at five comparable urban hospitals adopting the same inpatient discharge innovation mandated by their health care authority. We analyzed documents and conducted 39 interviews of the health care authority and hospital executives and frontline managers across the five sites over a 1-year period while the implementation was ongoing.
Findings: In two and a half years, two of the participating hospitals had made significant progress with implementing the innovation and had begun to realize benefits; they exemplified an integrated implementation mode. Three sites had made minimal progress, following a fragmented implementation mode. In the former mode, a semiautonomous health care organization developed a clear overall purpose and chose one umbrella initiative to implement it. The integrative initiative subsumed the rest and guided resource allocation and the practices of hospital executives, frontline managers, and staff who had bought into it. In contrast, in the fragmented implementation mode, the health care authority had several overlapping, competing innovations that overwhelmed the sites and impeded their implementation.
Practice implications: Implementing a complex innovation across hospital sites required (a) early prioritization of one initiative as integrative, (b) the commitment of additional (traded off or new) human resources,
(c) deliberate upfront planning and continual support for and evaluation of implementation, and (d) allowance for local customization within the general principles of standardization.