Integrating Social Needs Into Health Care: A Twenty-Year Case Study Of Adaptation And Diffusion

In Health Affairs, Rebecca Onie and colleagues, including Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, conduct a twenty-year qualitative case study of Health Leads, an organization that partners with health care institutions and communities to address patients’ basic resource needs, and its funders. The case study demonstrates the successful stages of diffusion, defined as the process by which an innovation is communicated over time within a social system, leading to increased exposure and adoption. The authors segmented the process for Health Leads into five distinct phases:

  1. Testing and Learning (1996 - 2008)
  2. Model Standardization (2009 - 2011)
  3. Model Replication (2012 - 2014)
  4. From Doing to Enabling (2015 - 2016)
  5. Catalyzing Broad Adoption (2017 and beyond)

The authors identified three key lessons from the Health Leads case study regarding the successful diffusion of innovation in health care. First, focusing on a clear aim is essential. This makes strategic and operational adjustments easier to see, understand, and act upon. Second, investing in model testing and standardization enables the ability to respond to complex and dynamic forces from both the public and private sectors of health care. Finally, innovators and investors must be willing to cede control of the operational model to allow local adaption and to accelerate broad adoption.