Qual Saf Health Care 13:213-217 doi:10.1136/qshc.2003.006536
  • Organisational matters

Organisational change theory and the use of indicators in general practice

  1. M Rhydderch1,
  2. G Elwyn1,
  3. M Marshall2,
  4. R Grol3
  1. 1Department of Primary Care, The Clinical School, University of Wales Swansea, Swansea SA2 8PP, UK
  2. 2National Primary Care Research and Development Centre, University of Manchester, Manchester M13 9PL, UK
  3. 3Centre for Quality of Care Research, University of Nijmegen, 6500 HB Nijmegen, The Netherlands
  1. Correspondence to:
 Mrs M S Rhydderch
 Department of Primary Care, The Clinical School, University of Wales Swansea, Grove Building, Singleton Park, Swansea SA2 8PP;
  • Accepted 10 February 2004


General practices are making greater use of indicators to help shape and develop organisational arrangements supporting the delivery of health care. Debate continues concerning what exactly such indicators should measure and how they should be used to achieve improvement. Organisational theories can provide an analytical backdrop to inform the design of indicators, critique their construction, and evaluate their use. Systems theory, organisational development, social worlds theory, and complexity theory each has a practical contribution to make to our understanding of how indicators work in prompting quality improvements and why they sometimes don’t. This paper argues that systems theory exerts the most influence over the use of indicators. It concludes that a strategic framework for quality improvement should take account of all four theories, recognising the multiple realities that any one approach will fail to reflect.