Article Text

Promoting professional behaviour change in healthcare: what interventions work, and why? A theory-led overview of systematic reviews
  1. Mark J Johnson1,2,
  2. Carl R May2,3
  1. 1National Institute for Health Research, Southampton Biomedical Research Centre, University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust, and University of Southampton, Southampton, UK
  2. 2University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust, Southampton, UK
  3. 3Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Southampton, Southampton, UK
  1. Correspondence to Professor Carl R May; C.R.May{at}


Objectives Translating research evidence into routine clinical practice is notoriously difficult. Behavioural interventions are often used to change practice, although their success is variable and the characteristics of more successful interventions are unclear. We aimed to establish the characteristics of successful behaviour change interventions in healthcare.

Design We carried out a systematic overview of systematic reviews on the effectiveness of behaviour change interventions with a theory-led analysis using the constructs of normalisation process theory (NPT). MEDLINE, CINAHL, PsychINFO and the Cochrane Library were searched electronically from inception to July 2015.

Setting Primary and secondary care.

Participants Participants were any patients and healthcare professionals in systematic reviews who met the inclusion criteria of having examined the effectiveness of professional interventions in improving professional practice and/or patient outcomes.

Interventions Professional interventions as defined by the Cochrane Effective Practice and Organisation of Care Review Group.

Primary and secondary outcome measures Success of each intervention in changing practice or patient outcomes, and their mechanisms of action. Reviews were coded as to the interventions included, how successful they had been and which NPT constructs its component interventions covered.

Results Searches identified 4724 articles, 67 of which met the inclusion criteria. Interventions fell into three main categories: persuasive; educational and informational; and action and monitoring. Interventions focusing on action or education (eg, Audit and Feedback, Reminders, Educational Outreach) acted on the NPT constructs of Collective Action and Reflexive Monitoring, and reviews using them tended to report more positive outcomes.

Conclusions This theory-led analysis suggests that interventions which contribute to normative restructuring of practice, modifying peer group norms and expectations (eg, educational outreach) and relational restructuring, reinforcing modified peer group norms by emphasising the expectations of an external reference group (eg, Reminders, Audit and Feedback), offer the best chances of success. Combining such interventions is most likely to change behaviour.

  • Professional practice
  • Behaviour
  • Health Services
  • Implementation

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