Open Access Open Badges Research article

Can the theoretical domains framework account for the implementation of clinical quality interventions?

Wendy Lipworth1*, Natalie Taylor12 and Jeffrey Braithwaite1

Author Affiliations

1 Centre for Clinical Governance Research, Australian Institute of Health Innovation, University of New South Wales, AGSM Building (L1), Randwick, NSW 2052, Australia

2 Bradford Institute for Health Research, Bradford Royal Infirmary, Duckworth Lane, Bradford, Yorkshire BD9 6RJ, England

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BMC Health Services Research 2013, 13:530  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-13-530

Published: 21 December 2013



The health care quality improvement movement is a complex enterprise. Implementing clinical quality initiatives requires attitude and behaviour change on the part of clinicians, but this has proven to be difficult. In an attempt to solve this kind of behavioural challenge, the theoretical domains framework (TDF) has been developed. The TDF consists of 14 domains from psychological and organisational theory said to influence behaviour change. No systematic research has been conducted into the ways in which clinical quality initiatives map on to the domains of the framework. We therefore conducted a qualitative mapping experiment to determine to what extent, and in what ways, the TDF is relevant to the implementation of clinical quality interventions.


We conducted a thematic synthesis of the qualitative literature exploring clinicians’ perceptions of various clinical quality interventions. We analysed and synthesised 50 studies in total, in five domains of clinical quality interventions: clinical quality interventions in general, structural interventions, audit-type interventions, interventions aimed at making practice more evidence-based, and risk management interventions. Data were analysed thematically, followed by synthesis of these themes into categories and concepts, which were then mapped to the domains of the TDF.


Our results suggest that the TDF is highly relevant to the implementation of clinical quality interventions. It can be used to map most, if not all, of the attitudinal and behavioural barriers and facilitators of uptake of clinical quality interventions. Each of these 14 domains appeared to be relevant to many different types of clinical quality interventions. One possible additional domain might relate to perceived trustworthiness of those instituting clinical quality interventions.


The TDF can be usefully applied to a wide range of clinical quality interventions. Because all 14 of the domains emerged as relevant, and we did not identify any obvious differences between different kinds of clinical quality interventions, our findings support an initially broad approach to identifying barriers and facilitators, followed by a “drilling down” to what is most contextually salient. In future, it may be possible to establish a model of clinical quality policy implementation using the TDF.

Theoretical domains framework; Clinical quality; Health service management; Behaviour change; Qualitative research; Qualitative synthesis