Too much theory and not enough practice? The challenge of implementation science application in healthcare practice

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Background: Implementation science (IS) should contribute to maintaining high standards of care across healthcare systems and enhancing care practices. However, despite the evident need for greater and more rapid uptake and integration of evidence in practice, IS design and methodology fall short of the needs of effective translation. Aim: In this paper we examine what it is about IS that makes it so appealing for effective uptake of interventions in routine practice, and yet so difficult to achieve. We propose a number of ways that implementation scientists could build mutual relationships with healthcare practitioners and other stakeholders including public members to ensure greater shared care practices, and highlight the value of IS training, collaborative educational events, and co-designed research. Discussion: More consideration should be given to IS applications in healthcare contexts. Implementation scientists can make a valuable contribution by mobilizing theory and improving practice. However, goals for an evidence-based system may be more appropriately achieved through greater outreach and collaboration, with methods that are flexible to support rapid implementation in complex adaptive systems. Collective learning and mutual trust can be cultivated by embedding researchers into healthcare services while offering greater opportunities for practitioners to learn about, and engage in, implementation research. Conclusion: To bridge the worlds of healthcare practice and IS, researchers could be more consistent in the relationships they build with professionals and the public, communicating through a shared language and co-joining practical approaches to effective implementation. This will build capacity for improved collaboration and foster respectful, interdisciplinary relationships.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice
Early online date15 Jul 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 15 Jul 2021


  • complex adaptive systems
  • embedded researchers
  • healthcare systems
  • implementation
  • mobile methods
  • rapid ethnography


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