Exploring factors that influence the spread and sustainability of a dysphagia innovation: an instrumental case study

BMC Health Serv Res. 2016 Aug 18;16(1):406. doi: 10.1186/s12913-016-1653-6.


Background: Swallowing difficulties challenge patient safety due to the increased risk of malnutrition, dehydration and aspiration pneumonia. A theoretically driven study was undertaken to examine the spread and sustainability of a locally developed innovation that involved using the Inter-Professional Dysphagia Framework to structure education for the workforce. A conceptual framework with 3 spread strategies (hierarchical control, participatory adaptation and facilitated evolution) was blended with a processual approach to sustaining organisational change. The aim was to understand the processes, mechanism and outcomes associated with the spread and sustainability of this safety initiative.

Methods: An instrumental case study, prospectively tracked a dysphagia innovation for 34 months (April 2011 to January 2014) in a large health care organisation in England. A train-the-trainer intervention (as participatory adaptation) was deployed on care pathways for stroke and fractured neck of femur. Data were collected at the organisational and clinical level through interviews (n = 30) and document review. The coding frame combined the processual approach with the spread mechanisms. Pre-determined outcomes included the number of staff trained about dysphagia and impact related to changes in practice.

Results: The features and processes associated with hierarchical control and participatory adaptation were identified. Leadership, critical junctures, temporality and making the innovation routine were aspects of hierarchical control. Participatory adaptation was evident on the care pathways through stakeholder responses, workload and resource pressures. Six of the 25 ward based trainers cascaded the dysphagia training. The expected outcomes were achieved when the top-down mandate (hierarchical control) was supplemented by local engagement and support (participatory adaptation).

Conclusions: Frameworks for spread and sustainability were combined to create a 'small theory' that described the interventions, the processes and desired outcomes a priori. This novel methodological approach confirmed what is known about spread and sustainability, highlighted the particularity of change and offered new insights into the factors associated with hierarchical control and participatory adaptation. The findings illustrate the dualities of organisational change as universal and context specific; as particular and amendable to theoretical generalisation. Appreciating these dualities may contribute to understanding why many innovations fail to become routine.

Keywords: Dysphagia; Instrumental case study; Patient safety; Small theory; Spread; Sustainability.

MeSH terms

  • Deglutition Disorders / therapy*
  • England
  • Female
  • Femoral Neck Fractures / rehabilitation
  • Hospitalization
  • Hospitals
  • Humans
  • Leadership
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Medical Staff, Hospital / education
  • Organizational Innovation*
  • Patient Safety
  • Prospective Studies
  • Stroke Rehabilitation