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Implementation research is the scientific study of methods to promote the systematic uptake of clinical research findings into routine clinical practice. Several interventions have been shown to be effective in changing health care professionals' behaviour, but heterogeneity within interventions, targeted behaviours, and study settings make generalisation difficult. Therefore, it is necessary to identify the 'active ingredients' in professional behaviour change strategies. Theories of human behaviour that feature an individual's "intention" to do something as the most immediate predictor of their behaviour have proved to be useful in non-clinical populations. As clinical practice is a form of human behaviour such theories may offer a basis for developing a scientific rationale for the choice of intervention to use in the implementation of new practice. The aim of this review was to explore the relationship between intention and behaviour in clinicians and how this compares to the intention-behaviour relationship in studies of non-clinicians.
We searched: PsycINFO, MEDLINE, EMBASE, CINAHL, Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, Science/Social science citation index, Current contents (social & behavioural med/clinical med), ISI conference proceedings, and Index to Theses. The reference lists of all included papers were checked manually. Studies were eligible for inclusion if they had: examined a clinical behaviour within a clinical context, included measures of both intention and behaviour, measured behaviour after intention, and explored this relationship quantitatively. All titles and abstracts retrieved by electronic searching were screened independently by two reviewers, with disagreements resolved by discussion.
Ten studies were found that examined the relationship between intention and clinical behaviours in 1623 health professionals. The proportion of variance in behaviour explained by intention was of a similar magnitude to that found in the literature relating to non-health professionals. This was more consistently the case for studies in which intention-behaviour correspondence was good and behaviour was self-reported. Though firm conclusions are limited by a smaller literature, our findings are consistent with that of the non-health professional literature. This review, viewed in the context of the larger populations of studies, provides encouragement for the contention that there is a predictable relationship between the intentions of a health professional and their subsequent behaviour. However, there remain significant methodological challenges.
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