Background: The implementation science literature has contributed important insights regarding the influence of formal policies and practices on health care innovation implementation, whereas informal implementation policies and practices have garnered little attention. The broader literature suggests that informal implementation policies and practices could also influence innovation use.
Purpose: We used the Organizational Theory of Innovation Implementation to further understand the role of formal and informal implementation policies and practices as determinants of implementation effectiveness. We examined their role within the context of initiatives to increase palliative care consultation in inpatient oncology.
Methods: We used a case study design in two organizational settings within one academic medical center: medical and gynecologic oncology. We completed semistructured interviews with medical (n = 12) and gynecologic (n = 10) oncology clinicians using questions based on organizational theory. Quantitative data assessed implementation effectiveness, defined as aggregated palliative care consult rates within oncology services from 2010 to 2016. Four palliative care clinicians were interviewed to gain additional implementation context insights.
Results: Medical oncology employed multiple formal policies and practices including training and clinician prompting to support palliative care consultation and a top-down approach, yet most clinicians were unaware of the policies and practices, contributing to a weak implementation climate. In contrast, gynecologic oncology employed one formal policy (written guideline of criteria for initiating a consult) but also relied on informal policies and practices, such as spontaneous feedback and communication; they adopted a bottom-up approach, contributing to broader clinician awareness and strong implementation climate. Both services exhibited variable, increasing consult rates over time.
Practice Implications: Informal policies and practices may compensate or substitute for formal policies and practices under certain conditions (e.g., smaller health care organizations). Further research is needed to investigate the role of formal and informal policies and practices in shaping a strong and sustainable implementation climate and subsequent effective innovation implementation.