Collaboration is promoted as a key aspect of commissioning and delivery in public health (NHS England, 2016) and health care (NHS England and NHS Improvement, 2016). Joint working and integration of services are seen as the way forward for the future NHS with new integrated models of care at the forefront of service redesign, and collaboration core to managing increased demands with diminishing resources. Although collaboration is a familiar concept and has been the subject of research and discussion it is still an area of practice which is poorly understood. It is striking that existing definitions of collaboration identify professional sharing with the focus on patient care, yet there is little representation of patients in most studies and the role of patients in collaboration seems to be missing from the existing theory.
I began my research after leading the development of Outpatient Parenteral Antimicrobial Therapy (OPAT) a new model of care which required collaborative working across secondary and primary care to deliver treatment in patient homes. The development of this service was challenging and required strong collaborative relationships to overcome the organisational barriers to integration. Having experienced the challenges of collaborating to develop an integrated service I wondered if these difficulties continue into the delivery of the service in practice, and how collaboration takes place within the challenging environment of the constantly reorganised NHS.
The aim of my research was to develop substantive theory about what collaboration means in the delivery of integrated care, the way it is manifested in day-to-day practice and how it is shaped by the situation in which it takes place. I viewed patients and professionals as participants in collaboration and interviewed three patients and 21 professionals. I have used a social constructionist approach to grounded theory (Charmaz, 2008) and a range of situational mapping techniques (Clarke, 2005)1 to map collaboration within the situation of integrated care delivery. Analysis was a fascinating and absorbing experience as I used mind mapping software to analyse and compare the perspectives of those involved in collaboration and then to combine perspectives to map and analyse the complexity of the situation.
Participants expressed a number of interactive mechanisms (trusting, communicating, co-ordinating and rehearsing) which were influenced by a range of situational co-ordinates (goals, limits, certainty, uncertainty and power) and these were used together to navigate the complexity of the healthcare situation and direct the process and outcomes of collaboration. The capability of individuals to act, or interact was informed by their interpretation of the situation and this directed the capacity for collaboration within the care situation. Positional mapping techniques identified four directions of collaboration: developing, maintaining, limited and disrupted, and I found that limiting factors were significant in changing the direction of collaboration. The communication of some social limitations such as terminal illness, professional roles or work requirements altered an individual’s capability to collaborate and the capacity for collaboration within the situation.
My analysis has constructed a collaboration compass which is used to navigate the situation and direct the collaboration experienced by patients and professionals. I am in the process of writing up and still fighting my enthusiasm to write about everything I found and learned during my study; there simply aren’t enough words!
- Clarke, A. (2005). Situational analysis: Grounded theory after the postmodern turn. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.