Competition in collaborative clothing: a qualitative case study of influences on collaborative quality improvement in the ICU

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Multiorganisational quality improvement (QI) collaborative networks are promoted for improving quality within healthcare. Recently, several large-scale QI initiatives have been conducted in the intensive care unit (ICU) environment with successful quantitative results. However, the mechanisms through which such networks lead to QI success remain uncertain.


We aim to understand ICU staff perspectives on collaborative QI based on involvement in a multiorganisational improvement network and hypothesise about theoretical constructs that might explain the effect of collaboration in such networks.


Qualitative study using a modified grounded theory approach. Key informant interviews were conducted with staff from 12 community hospital ICUs that participated in a cluster randomized control trial (RCT) of a QI intervention using a collaborative approach between 2006 and 2008. Data analysis followed the standard procedure for grounded theory using constant comparative methodology.


The collaborative network was perceived to promote increased intrateam cooperation over interorganisational cooperation, but friendly competition with other ICUs appeared to be a prominent driver of behaviour change. Bedsides, clinicians reported that belonging to a collaborative network provided recognition for the high-quality patient care that they already provided. However, the existing communication structure was perceived to be ineffective for staff engagement since it was based on a hierarchical approach to knowledge transfer and project awareness.


QI collaborative networks may promote behaviour change by improving intrateam communication, fostering competition with other institutions, and increasing recognition for providing high-quality care. Other commonly held assumptions about their potential impact, for instance, increasing interorganisational legitimisation, communication and collaboration, may be less important.

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