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Making change last? Exploring the value of sustainability approaches in healthcare: a scoping review

  • Lennox, L.1
  • Linwood-Amor, A.2
  • Maher, L.3
  • Reed, J.4
  • 1 Applied Research Collaboration North West London. Imperial College London, 369 Fulham Road, London, SW10 9NH, United Kingdom , London (United Kingdom)
  • 2 Ministry of Health, Environment, Culture and Housing, George Town, Grand Cayman KY1-9000, Cayman Islands , George Town (Cayman Islands)
  • 3 Middlemore Hospital, 100 Hospital Road, Otahuhu, New Zealand , Otahuhu (New Zealand)
  • 4 Julie Reed Consultancy, 27 Molasses House, London, SW113TN, United Kingdom , London (United Kingdom)
Published Article
Health Research Policy and Systems
BioMed Central
Publication Date
Oct 13, 2020
DOI: 10.1186/s12961-020-00601-0
Springer Nature


BackgroundNumerous models, tools and frameworks have been produced to improve the sustainability of evidence-based interventions. Due to the vast number available, choosing the most appropriate one is increasingly difficult for researchers and practitioners. To understand the value of such approaches, evidence warranting their use is needed. However, there is limited understanding of how sustainability approaches have been used and how they have impacted research or practice. This review aims to consolidate evidence on the application and impact of sustainability approaches in healthcare settings.MethodsA systematic scoping review was designed to search for peer-reviewed publications detailing the use of sustainability approaches in practice. A 5-stage framework for scoping reviews directed the search strategy, and quality assessment was performed using the Mixed Method Appraisal Tool. Searches were performed through electronic citation tracking and snowballing of references. Articles were obtained through Web of Science, PubMed and Google Scholar. Six outcome variables for sustainability were explored to ascertain impact of approaches.ResultsThis review includes 68 articles demonstrating the application of sustainability approaches in practice. Results show an increase in the use of sustainability approaches in peer-reviewed studies. Approaches have been applied across a range of healthcare settings, including primary, secondary, tertiary and community healthcare. Approaches are used for five main purposes, namely analysis, evaluation, guidance, assessment and planning. Results outline benefits (e.g. improved conceptualisation of sustainability constructs and improved ability to interpret sustainability data) and challenges (e.g. issues with approach constructs and difficulty in application) associated with using a sustainability approach in practice. Few articles (14/68) reported the sustainability outcome variables explored; therefore, the impact of approaches on sustainability remains unclear. Additional sustainability outcome variables reported in retrieved articles are discussed.ConclusionsThis review provides practitioners and researchers with a consolidated evidence base on sustainability approaches. Findings highlight the remaining gaps in the literature and emphasise the need for improved rigour and reporting of sustainability approaches in research studies. To guide future assessment and study of sustainability in healthcare settings an updated list of sustainability outcome variables is proposed.Trial RegistrationThis review was registered on the PROSPERO database CRD 42016040081 in June 2016.

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