Table 3

Comparison of “simple” and “complex” interventions
“Simple” interventions “Complex” interventions
Population Sick population seeking care Healthy general or at-risk population
Intervention Individual-level intervention Population- and/or individual-level intervention
Single component Multiple interacting components
“Reactive” treatment through medication or surgery or clinical prevention “Proactive” prevention through behaviour change and/or technical intervention and/or policy
Implementation in healthcare setting Implementation in household, community or policy setting
Comparison No intervention or alternative intervention through treatment/surgery “Business as usual” in several sectors
Outcome Shorter causal pathway Longer causal pathway
One or a small number of health outcomes Multiple health outcomes and broader societal consequences
Usually impact after short lag period Usually impact after long lag period
Delivery of intervention Delivery through health sector Delivery through multiple sectors
Contextual effects Variation between healthcare providers (individuals, institutions) Variation between providers of different intervention components in multiple sectors
Patient preference and compliance Large cultural and behavioural variation

“Simple interventions” tend to show more of the characteristics in the left column while “complex” interventions tend to show more of those in the right column.

Rehfuess and Akl

Rehfuess and Akl BMC Public Health 2013 13:9   doi:10.1186/1471-2458-13-9

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