How useful can SNA be right now in healthcare settings? A look at Chambers et al. (2012) review

My blog would not be doing complexity justice without briefly dipping our toes into the state of use and utility of SNA in healthcare research today. Chambers et al (2012) published in PLoSOne “Social Network Analysis in Healthcare Settings: A Systematic Scoping Review”, taking a gander at SNA’s use in health interventions.

Take home messages to take to the bank:
1. SNA has been used in cross sectional, descriptive studies and have been not been taken farther. [No surprise there…]
2. SNA is performed by pure social scientists, not applied researchers such as public health researchers, which may lead to its lack of adaptation to real world interventions. [No surprise there either…Few have been formerly trained]

Now you may spend time reading the article on your own. It is not meant to be an exhaustive review…Sorry to disappoint.

However I do have one huge bone to pick with the review methodology. Excluded were studies of “patients’ and carers’ social networks”. WHY? WHY? WHY? Okay, I understand that the authors were only interested in studies within traditional healthcare settings. But how might a behavior-change intervention stay salient and beneficial by ignoring the patient lived environment outside of the clinic. How can any ecological exploration of illness leave out resources such as knowledge, social influence, value negotiation and power embedded in those social ties? If the boundary of health is prematurely truncated to leave out influences outside of the healthcare setting (those not donning starched white coats but nonetheless dab the mouths of these patients with compassion), how successful would ANY SNA intervention (if ever done) be without exploring the complexity of health “in place”. If our definition of Chambers et al (2012) “intervention” involves only nodes bobbing in a healthcare setting, then ignore the above statement and be happy with your p-value. It is the unpredictable emergence of life events and methodological messiness of complexity outside of the clinic that is worrisome. Yes we need to heed Chambers et al. (2012)’s call. But I implore, the messiness outside of the examining room is worth it as well.



Chambers D, Wilson P, Thompson C, Harden M (2012) Social Network Analysis in Healthcare Settings: A Systematic Scoping Review. PLoS ONE 7(8): e41911. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0041911.


About Michele Battle-Fisher

This is an archive of the Orgcomplexity Blog. Please follow me at the following sites: Michele Battle-Fisher (Facebook author page) mbattlefisher (Twitter) michele.battle.fisher (Skype) Author Website

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