Built to last? Barriers and facilitators of healthcare program sustainability: a systematic integrative review

Yvonne Zurynski, Kristiana Ludlow, Luke Testa, Hanna Augustsson, Jess Herkes-Deane, Karen Hutchinson, Gina Lamprell, Elise McPherson, Ann Carrigan, Louise A. Ellis, Putu Novi Arfirsta Dharmayani, Carolynn Smith, Lieke Richardson, Genevieve Dammery, Nehal Singh, Jeffrey Braithwaite

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

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Objective: To identify barriers and facilitators associated with the sustainability of implemented and evaluated improvement programs in healthcare delivery systems.

Data sources and study setting: Six academic databases were searched to identify relevant peer-reviewed journal articles published in English between July 2011 and June 2022. Studies were included if they reported on healthcare program sustainability and explicitly identified barriers to, and facilitators of, sustainability.

Study design: A systematic integrative review guided by the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analysis (PRISMA) statement. Study quality was appraised using Hawker’s Quality Assessment Tool.

Data collection/extraction methods: A team of reviewers screened eligible studies against the inclusion criteria and extracted the data independently using a purpose-designed Excel spreadsheet. Barriers and facilitators were extracted and mapped to the Integrated Sustainability Framework (ISF). Frequency counts of reported barriers/facilitators were performed across the included studies.

Results: Of the 124 studies included in this review, almost half utilised qualitative designs (n = 52; 41.9%) and roughly one third were conducted in the USA (n = 43; 34.7%). Few studies (n = 29; 23.4%) reported on program sustainability beyond 5 years of program implementation and only 16 of them (55.2%) defined sustainability. Factors related to the ISF categories of inner setting (n = 99; 79.8%), process (n = 99; 79.8%) and intervention characteristics (n = 72; 58.1%) were most frequently reported. Leadership/support (n = 61; 49.2%), training/support/supervision (n = 54; 43.5%) and staffing/turnover (n = 50; 40.3%) were commonly identified barriers or facilitators of sustainability across included studies. Forty-six (37.1%) studies reported on the outer setting category: funding (n = 26; 56.5%), external leadership by stakeholders (n = 16; 34.8%), and socio-political context (n = 14; 30.4%). Eight studies (6.5%) reported on discontinued programs, with factors including funding and resourcing, poor fit, limited planning, and intervention complexity contributing to discontinuation.

Conclusions: This review highlights the importance of taking into consideration the inner setting, processes, intervention characteristics and outer setting factors when sustaining healthcare programs, and the need for long-term program evaluations. There is a need to apply consistent definitions and implementation frameworks across studies to strengthen evidence in this area.

Trial registration: https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/7/11/e018568.
Original languageEnglish
Article number62
Pages (from-to)1-21
Number of pages21
JournalImplementation Science
Publication statusPublished - 13 Nov 2023

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2023. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • Sustainability
  • Healthcare systems improvement
  • Interventions
  • Complex systems
  • Systematic review


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