Improvement collaboratives in health care

Evidence scan

July 2014

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Key questions addressed

  • Are collaboratives effective for improving the quality of health care?
  • What factors may be associated with success?

This scan compiles research about whether quality improvement collaboratives are effective.

Quality improvement collaboratives involve groups of professionals coming together, either from within an organisation or across multiple organisations, to learn from and motivate each other to improve the quality of health services. Collaboratives often use a structured approach, such as setting targets and undertaking rapid cycles of change.

Collaboratives have been used as an improvement approach in health care for the past 20 years or so, but with mixed results. In the NHS, collaboratives have been proposed as a potential vehicle for change so it is important to ensure that the design of these initiatives makes the best use of evidence about what works to enable a successful collaborative approach.

The scan suggests that collaboratives are not always successful but they are more likely to be effective if they:

  • focus on who should be included
  • consider the topic focus
  • consider how to run activities
  • provide appropriate resources.

The scan looked at readily available research published in journals in the UK and internationally between March 2008 and March 2014. It also draws on a 2009 Health Foundation systematic review of material published between 1995 and March 2008. That review included specific types of collaboratives (using the IHI ‘model for improvement’), whereas the current scan was broader and included any intervention that defined itself as a collaborative.

Further information

The Health Foundation has worked on a number of projects and programmes involving collaboratives, including Stroke 90:10. Findings from this programme were published in the journal Implementation Science after the scan was undertaken.

Further reading

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