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Pathways to professionalism? Quality improvement, care pathways, and the interplay of standardization and clinical autonomy

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journal contribution
posted on 08.03.2017, 10:05 by Graham P. Martin, David Kocman, Timothy Stephens, Carol J. Peden, Rupert M. Pearse
Care pathways are a prominent feature of efforts to improve healthcare quality, outcomes and accountability, but sociological studies of pathways often find professional resistance to standardization. This qualitative study examined the adoption and adaptation of a novel pathway as part of a randomized controlled trial in an unusually complex, non-linear field— emergency general surgery—by teams of surgeons and physicians in six theoretically sampled sites in the UK. We find near-universal receptivity to the concept of a pathway as a means of improving peri-operative processes and outcomes, but concern about the impact on appropriate professional judgement. However, this concern translated not into resistance and implementation failure, but into a nuancing of the pathways-as-realized in each site, and their use as a means of enhancing professional decision-making and inter-professional collaboration. We discuss our findings in the context of recent literature on the interplay between managerialism and professionalism in healthcare, and highlight practical and theoretical implications.


This research was funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Health Services and Delivery Research (HS&DR) programme (grant number 12/5005/10). Graham Martin’s contribution to the research was also supported by the NIHR Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care East Midlands (CLAHRC EM).



Sociology of Health and Illness, 2017

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/Organisation/COLLEGE OF MEDICINE, BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES AND PSYCHOLOGY/School of Medicine/Department of Health Sciences


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Sociology of Health and Illness


Wiley for Foundation for the Sociology of Health and Illness





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