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Open Access Research article

A qualitative study of contextual factors’ impact on measures to reduce surgery cancellations

Einar Hovlid* and Oddbjørn Bukve

Author Affiliations

Sogn og Fjordane University College, Institute of Social Science, Postbox 133, Sogndal 6851, Norway

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BMC Health Services Research 2014, 14:215  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-14-215

Published: 13 May 2014



Contextual factors influence quality improvement outcomes. Understanding this influence is important when adapting and implementing interventions and translating improvements into new settings. To date, there is limited knowledge about how contextual factors influence quality improvement processes. In this study, we explore how contextual factors affected measures to reduce surgery cancellations, which are a persistent problem in healthcare. We discuss the usefulness of the theoretical framework provided by the model for understanding success in quality (MUSIQ) for this kind of research.


We performed a qualitative case study at Førde Hospital, Norway, where we had previously demonstrated a reduction in surgery cancellations. We interviewed 20 clinicians and performed content analysis to explore how contextual factors affected measures to reduce cancellations of planned surgeries.


We identified three common themes concerning how contextual factors influenced the change process: 1) identifying a need to change, 2) facilitating system-wide improvement, and 3) leader involvement and support. Input from patients helped identify a need to change and contributed to the consensus that change was necessary. Reducing cancellations required improving the clinical system. This improvement process was based on a strategy that emphasized the involvement of frontline clinicians in detecting and improving system problems. Clinicians shared information about their work by participating in improvement teams to develop a more complete understanding of the clinical system and its interdependencies. This new understanding allowed clinicians to detect system problems and design adequate interventions. Middle managers’ participation in the improvement teams and in regular work processes was important for successfully implementing and adapting interventions.


Contextual factors interacted with one another and with the interventions to facilitate changes in the clinical system, reducing surgery cancellations. The MUSIQ framework is useful for exploring how contextual factors influence the improvement process and how they influence one another. Discussing data in relation to a theoretical framework can promote greater uniformity in reporting findings, facilitating knowledge-building across studies.

Contextual factors; Surgery cancellations; Theoretical framework; Quality improvement