The interest toward hospital restructuring has risen significantly in recent years. In spite of its potential benefits, often organizational restructuring in health care produces unexpected consequences. Extant research suggests that institutional theory provides a powerful theoretical lens through which hospital restructuring can be described and explained. According to this perspective, the effectiveness of change is strongly related to the extent to which innovative arrangements, tools, or practices are adopted and implemented within hospitals. Whenever these new arrangements require a substantial modification of internal processes and practices, resistance to implementation emerges and organizational change is likely to become neutralized.
This study analyzes how hospital organizations engage in decoupling by adopting but not implementing a new organizational model named clinical directorate.
We collected primary data on the diffusion of the clinical directorate model, which was mandated by law in the Italian National Health Service to improve hospital services. We surveyed the adoption and implementation of the clinical directorate model by monitoring the presence of clinical governance tools (measures for the quality improvement of hospital services) within single directorates. In particular, we compared hospitals that adopted the model before (early adopters) or after (later adopters) the mandate was introduced.
Hospitals were engaged in decoupling by adopting the new arrangement but not implementing internal practices and tools for quality improvement. The introduction of the law significantly affected the decoupling, with late-adopter hospitals being less likely to implement the adopted model.
The present research shows that changes in quality improvement processes may vary in relation to policy makers’ interventions aimed at boosting the adoption of new hospital arrangements. Hospital administrators need to be aware and identify the institutional changes that might be driven by law to be able to react consistently with expectations of policymakers.