Service line structure and decision-maker attention in three health systems: Implications for patient-centered care

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Abstract

Background:

Scholars have noted a disconnect between the level at which structure is typically examined (the organization) and the level at which the relevant coordination takes place (service delivery). Accordingly, our understanding of the role structure plays in care coordination is limited.

Purpose:

In this article, we explore service line structure, with an aim of advancing our understanding of the role service line structure plays in producing coordinated, patient-centered care. We do so by giving special attention to the cognitive roots of patient-centeredness.

Methodology/Approach:

Our exploratory study relied on comparative case studies of the breast cancer service lines in three health systems. Nonprobability discriminative snowball sampling was used to identify the final sample of key informants. We employed a grounded approach to analyzing and interpreting the data.

Results:

We found substantial variation across the three service lines in terms of their structure. We also found corresponding variation across the three case sites in terms of where informant attention was primarily focused in the process of coordinating care. Drawing on the attention-based view of the firm, our results draw a clear connection between structural characteristics and the dominant focus of attention (operational tactics, provider roles and relationships, or patient needs and engagement) in health care service lines.

Conclusion:

Our exploratory results suggest that service line structures influence attention in two ways: (a) by regulating the type and intensity of the problems facing service line participants and (b) by encouraging (or discouraging) a shared purpose around patient needs.

Practice Implications:

Patient-centered attention—a precursor to coordinated, patient-centered care—depends on the internal choices organizations make around service line structure. Moreover, a key task for organizational and service line leaders is to structure service lines to create a context that minimizes distractions and enables care providers to focus their attention on the needs of their patients.

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