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How to Uncover Sources of Unwarranted Practice Variation: A Case Study in Emergency Medicine

Feufel, Markus A.

Forty years of statistical database analyses have demonstrated the existence of unwarranted practice variation in care delivery, that is, variations independent of medical need, evidence, or patient preference. Alas, little is known about the underlying mechanisms and thus finding interventions to reduce unwarranted variations remains difficult, hampering quality, equity, and efficiency of care. Whereas statistical analyses describe deviations from ideal patterns, ethnographically inspired analyses aim at understanding when, how, and why variations occur in practice. Based on case studies derived from shadowing emergency physicians, I demonstrate that analyzing practice variation in practice helps to (a) advance the understanding of mechanisms and (b) evaluate/expand the existing repertoire of interventions. Results revealed unmet expectations and new sources of known variations as well as interventions complementing systemic changes with those that empower individuals to better cope with the existing system. These findings highlight the benefits of mixed-methods for understanding and tackling practice variation.
Published in: Qualitative health research, 10.1177/1049732318774322, Sage Publications