Aligning implementation science with improvement practice: a call to action

Implement Sci Commun. 2021 Sep 8;2(1):99. doi: 10.1186/s43058-021-00201-1.


Background: In several recent articles, authors have called for aligning the fields of implementation and improvement science. In this paper, we call for implementation science to also align with improvement practice. Multiple implementation scholars have highlighted the importance of designing implementation strategies to fit the existing culture, infrastructure, and practice of a healthcare system. Worldwide, healthcare systems are adopting improvement models as their primary approach to improving healthcare delivery and outcomes. The prevalence of improvement models raises the question of how implementation scientists might best align their efforts with healthcare systems' existing improvement infrastructure and practice.

Main body: We describe three challenges and five benefits to aligning implementation science and improvement practice. Challenges include (1) use of different models, terminology, and methods, (2) a focus on generalizable versus local knowledge, and (3) limited evidence in support of the effectiveness of improvement tools and methods. We contend that implementation science needs to move beyond these challenges and work toward greater alignment with improvement practice. Aligning with improvement practice would benefit implementation science by (1) strengthening research/practice partnerships, (2) fostering local ownership of implementation, (3) generating practice-based evidence, (4) developing context-specific implementation strategies, and (5) building practice-level capacity to implement interventions and improve care. Each of these potential benefits is illustrated in a case study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Cancer Prevention and Control Research Network.

Conclusion: To effectively integrate evidence-based interventions into routine practice, implementation scientists need to align their efforts with the improvement culture and practice that is driving change within healthcare systems worldwide. This paper provides concrete examples of how researchers have aligned implementation science with improvement practice across five implementation projects.

Keywords: Cancer prevention and control; Case studies; Implementation science; Improvement practice; Quality improvement.