Avoiding low value care received increasing attention in many countries, as with the Choosing Wisely campaign and other initiatives to abandon care that wastes resources or delivers no benefit to patients. While an extensive literature characterises approaches to implementing evidence-based care, we have limited understanding of the process of de-implementation, such as abandoning existing low value practices.

To learn more about the differences between implementation and de-implementation, we explored the literature and analysed data from two published studies (one implementation and one de-implementation) by the same orthopaedic surgeons. We defined ‘leaders’ as those orthopaedic surgeons who implemented, or de-implemented, the target processes of care and laggards as those who did not. Our findings suggest that leaders in implementation share some characteristics with leaders in de-implementation when comparing them with laggards, such as more open to new evidence, younger and less time in clinical practice.

However, leaders in de-implementation and implementation differed in some other characteristics and were not the same persons. Thus, leading in implementation or de-implementation may depend to some degree on the type of intervention rather than entirely reflecting personal characteristics. De-implementation seemed to be hampered by motivational factors such as department priorities, and economic and political factors such as cost-benefit considerations in care delivery, whereas organisational factors were associated only with implementation.

The only barrier or facilitator common to both implementation and de-implementation consisted of outcome expectancy (ie, the perceived net benefit to patients). Future studies need to test the hypotheses generated from this study and improve our understanding of differences between the processes of implementation and de-implementation in the people who are most likely to lead (or resist) these efforts.

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