Considering complexity in healthcare systems

Thomas G. Kannampallil, Guido F. Schauer, Trevor Cohen, Vimla L. Patel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

144 Scopus citations

Abstract

A recent trend in the literature has been to characterize healthcare activities in terms of complex systems theory. Complexity has often been loosely and variously defined, with meanings ranging from "not simple" to "complicated" to "intractable." In this paper, we consider various aspects of complexity and how they relate to modern healthcare practice, with the aim of developing research approaches for studying complex healthcare environments. We propose a theoretical lens for understanding and studying complexity in healthcare systems based on degrees of interrelatedness of system components. We also describe, with relevant caveats, how complex healthcare systems are generally decomposable, rendering them more tractable for further study. The ideas of interrelatedness among the components of a system as a measure of complexity and functional decomposition as a mechanism for studying meaningful subcomponents of a complex system can be used as a framework for understanding complex healthcare systems. Using examples drawn from current literature and our own research, we explain the feasibility of this approach for understanding, studying, and managing complex healthcare systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)943-947
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Biomedical Informatics
Volume44
Issue number6
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 1 2011

Keywords

  • Complex systems
  • Complexity
  • Functional decomposition
  • Healthcare
  • Interrelatedness

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computer Science Applications
  • Health Informatics

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    Kannampallil, T. G., Schauer, G. F., Cohen, T., & Patel, V. L. (2011). Considering complexity in healthcare systems. Journal of Biomedical Informatics, 44(6), 943-947. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jbi.2011.06.006