ACSPRI Conferences, RC33 Eighth International Conference on Social Science Methodology

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Applying Network Theory to Evaluate Clinical Networks in Australia

Frances Clare Cunningham, Geetha Ranmuthugala, Johanna Irene Westbrook, Jeffrey Braithwaite

Building: Law Building
Room: Breakout 11 - Law Building, Room 107
Date: 2012-07-11 11:00 AM – 12:30 PM
Last modified: 2012-06-15


New network forms of organising are supplanting hierarchies and markets that dominated the greater part of the twentieth-century 'workscape' (Contractor, Wasserman, and Faust 2006). In Australia and internationally, forms of clinical and health networks have developed over the past decade and have been associated with clinician engagement and quality improvement. However, there is a lack of independent evaluation of these networks in the peer reviewed literature. We report on the application of social network analysis (SNA) to examine the role and value of two state-based musculoskeletal clinical networks in Australia. Musculoskeletal conditions are the leading cause of long-term disability in Australia (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2011). The evaluation methodology is informed by a systematic review of the literature on health professional networks which identified key network features associated with network outcomes (Cunningham et al. 2011) . Two state musculoskeletal clinical networks were purposively selected for evaluation. An on-line survey conducted at two time points (November/December 2011 and 2012) includes network assessment questions as well as sociometric questions for SNA of the two networks and allows for examination of the networks over time. Study results will be presented from the analysis of survey data on network structure and outcomes. We will discuss methodological issues, including the challenges (1) of measuring network effectiveness, (2) of framing suitable sociometric questions for whole-network SNA, taking into account network size, and (3) of linking the network structure with outcomes. Our findings to date indicate that while it is possible to achieve a satisfactorily high SNA survey response rate for a whole-network on-line survey from a smaller sized network, larger sized networks may present challenges in achieving an adequate response rate.

[277 words]

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. 2011. Population differences in health care use for arthritis and osteoporisis in Australia. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.
Contractor, N. S., S. Wasserman, and K. Faust. 2006. Testing multitheoretical, multilevel hypotheses about organizational networks: An analytic framework and empirical example. Academy of Management Review 31 (3):681-703.
Cunningham, Frances C., Geetha Ranmutugala, Jenny Plumb, Andrew Georgiou, Johanna I. Westbrook, and Jeffrey Braithwaite. 2011. Health professional networks as a vector for improving health care quality and safety. A systematic review. BMJ Quality & Safety In press.