Providing health professionals with quantitative summaries of their clinical performance when treating specific groups of patients (“feedback”) is a widely used quality improvement strategy, yet systematic reviews show it has varying success. Theory could help explain what factors influence feedback success, and guide approaches to enhance effectiveness. However, existing theories lack comprehensiveness and specificity to health care. To address this problem, we conducted the first systematic review and synthesis of qualitative evaluations of feedback interventions, using findings to develop a comprehensive new health care-specific feedback theory.
We searched MEDLINE, EMBASE, CINAHL, Web of Science, and Google Scholar from inception until 2016 inclusive. Data were synthesised by coding individual papers, building on pre-existing theories to formulate hypotheses, iteratively testing and improving hypotheses, assessing confidence in hypotheses using the GRADE-CERQual method, and summarising high-confidence hypotheses into a set of propositions.
We synthesised 65 papers evaluating 73 feedback interventions from countries spanning five continents. From our synthesis we developed Clinical Performance Feedback Intervention Theory (CP-FIT), which builds on 30 pre-existing theories and has 42 high-confidence hypotheses. CP-FIT states that effective feedback works in a cycle of sequential processes; it becomes less effective if any individual process fails, thus halting progress round the cycle. Feedback’s success is influenced by several factors operating via a set of common explanatory mechanisms: the feedback method used, health professional receiving feedback, and context in which feedback takes place. CP-FIT summarises these effects in three propositions: (1) health care professionals and organisations have a finite capacity to engage with feedback, (2) these parties have strong beliefs regarding how patient care should be provided that influence their interactions with feedback, and (3) feedback that directly supports clinical behaviours is most effective.
This is the first qualitative meta-synthesis of feedback interventions, and the first comprehensive theory of feedback designed specifically for health care. Our findings contribute new knowledge about how feedback works and factors that influence its effectiveness. Internationally, practitioners, researchers, and policy-makers can use CP-FIT to design, implement, and evaluate feedback. Doing so could improve care for large numbers of patients, reduce opportunity costs, and improve returns on financial investments.