Testing the effectiveness of a Practice Development intervention as an enabler of allied health leadership development

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Practice development is an umbrella term that incorporates a variety of methods used to develop healthcare practice. It is underpinned by the concepts of person-centredness, culture, values, context and evidence-based practice. Allied health clinicians are tertiary-qualified members of the healthcare team who work across the care continuum to provide a range of therapeutic interventions. Although effective healthcare provision is said to require leadership at all levels of an organisation, allied health leadership has not been extensively investigated in the literature, nor has its involvement with practice development. This mixed methods study investigated the area of leadership development of allied health practitioners and examined whether practice development methodologies were effectual in equipping allied health leaders with skills that improved leadership effectiveness and enhanced the provision of person-centred healthcare. The principal aim of the study was to evaluate the outcomes of an allied health leadership development program – underpinned by the principles of practice development and transformational leadership – conducted in a large Australian public healthcare organisation. The effectiveness of this approach to enhancing allied health practice was tested. This research commenced with a critical analysis of the allied health and leadership literature and of the use of practice development by allied health clinicians. An investigation was also undertaken with allied health leaders to describe and better understand the context and issues for allied health clinicians in New South Wales as well as to identify specific cultural aspects of allied health. An allied health leadership framework was developed, informed by practice development and transformational leadership theories. This was followed by the design, implementation and evaluation of a ten-month allied health leadership program. The program was evaluated using a randomised control trial involving the use of a stratified, randomised pre-test/post-test group design, with a control group, to quantitatively measure the culture, engagement and leadership skills of study participants before and after the implementation of the South Eastern Sydney Local Health District Allied Health Leadership Development Program (the intervention) in 2014–2015. A range of qualitative measures were also collected. A second leadership program was undertaken with an unmatched intervention group in 2015–2016. The study examined whether the program enhanced leadership capability and improved workplace cultural measures. It also measured whether the program led to quantifiable practice change, service improvement and enhanced clinical governance, including specified measures of quality and safety. This research found that the program led to demonstrable outcomes in transformational leadership, leadership outcomes, workplace culture and workplace engagement. It provided robust new evidence about the effectiveness of using person-centred approaches for allied health leadership development. This study is unique in its contribution to advancing research pertaining to allied health leaders and leadership. It provides a new, empirically-based leadership development program for allied health and describes a novel approach using a randomised control trial method to evaluate an allied health leadership framework.
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