Can feedback approaches reduce unwarranted clinical variation? A systematic rapid evidence synthesis

Reema Harrison, Reece Amr Hinchcliff, Elizabeth Manias, Steven Mears, David Heslop, Victoria Walton, Ru Kwedza

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Assessment of clinical variation has attracted increasing interest in health systems internationally due to growing awareness about better value and appropriate health care as a mechanism for enhancing efficient, effective and timely care. Feedback using administrative databases to provide benchmarking data has been utilised in several countries to explore clinical care variation and to enhance guideline adherent care. Whilst methods for detecting variation are well-established, methods for determining variation that is unwarranted and addressing this are strongly debated. This study aimed to synthesize published evidence of the use of feedback approaches to address unwarranted clinical variation (UCV). Methods: A rapid review and narrative evidence synthesis was undertaken as a policy-focused review to understand how feedback approaches have been applied to address UCV specifically. Key words, synonyms and subject headings were used to search the major electronic databases Medline and PubMed between 2000 and 2018. Titles and abstracts of publications were screened by two reviewers and independently checked by a third reviewer. Full text articles were screened against the eligibility criteria. Key findings were extracted and integrated in a narrative synthesis. Results: Feedback approaches that occurred over a duration of 1 month to 9 years to address clinical variation emerged from 27 publications with quantitative (20), theoretical/conceptual/descriptive work (4) and mixed or multi-method studies (3). Approaches ranged from presenting evidence to individuals, teams and organisations, to providing facilitated tailored feedback supported by a process of ongoing dialogue to enable change. Feedback approaches identified primarily focused on changing clinician decision-making and behaviour. Providing feedback to clinicians was identified, in a range of a settings, as associated with changes in variation such as reducing overuse of tests and treatments, reducing variations in optimal patient clinical outcomes and increasing guideline or protocol adherence. Conclusions: The review findings suggest value in the use of feedback approaches to respond to clinical variation and understand when action is warranted. Evaluation of the effectiveness of particular feedback approaches is now required to determine if there is an optimal approach to create change where needed.

Original languageEnglish
Article number40
Pages (from-to)1-18
Number of pages18
JournalBMC Health Services Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 16 Jan 2020
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2020. 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.


  • Unwarranted clinical variation
  • Clinical variation
  • Health services
  • Facilitated feedback,
  • Clinician feedback
  • Effective care
  • Facilitated feedback


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