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Reforming primary healthcare: from public policy to organizational change

Frédéric Gilbert (School of Management, University of Québec at Montréal, Montréal, Canada)
Jean-Louis Denis (École Nationale d'Administration Publique, Montreal, Canada)
Lise Lamothe (Department of Administration Health, University of Montréal, Montréal, Canada)
Marie-Dominique Beaulieu (Department of Family and Emergency Medicine, University of Montréal, Montréal, Canada)
Danielle D'amour (Department of Nursing, University of Montréal, Montréal, Canada)
Johanne Goudreau (Department of Nursing, University of Montréal, Montréal, Canada)

Journal of Health Organization and Management

ISSN: 1477-7266

Article publication date: 16 March 2015




Governments everywhere are implementing reform to improve primary care. However, the existence of a high degree of professional autonomy makes large-scale change difficult to achieve. The purpose of this paper is to elucidate the change dynamics and the involvement of professionals in a primary healthcare reform initiative carried out in the Canadian province of Quebec.


An empirical approach was used to investigate change processes from the inception of a public policy to the execution of changes in professional practices. The data were analysed from a multi-level, combined contextualist-processual perspective. Results are based on a longitudinal multiple-case study of five family medicine groups, which was informed by over 100 interviews, questionnaires, and documentary analysis.


The results illustrate the multiple processes observed with the introduction of planned large-scale change in primary care services. The analysis of change content revealed that similar post-change states concealed variations between groups in the scale of their respective changes. The analysis also demonstrated more precisely how change evolved through the introduction of “intermediate change” and how cycles of prescribed and emergent mechanisms distinctively drove change process and change content, from the emergence of the public policy to the change in primary care service delivery.

Research limitations/implications

This research was conducted among a limited number of early policy adopters. However, given the international interest in turning to the medical profession to improve primary care, the results offer avenues for both policy development and implementation.

Practical implications

The findings offer practical insights for those studying and managing large-scale transformations. They provide a better understanding of how deliberate reforms coexist with professional autonomy through an intertwining of change content and processes.


This research is one of few studies to examine a primary care reform from emergence to implementation using a longitudinal multi-level design.



The authors would like to thank the referees for their most helpful comments. An earlier version of this manuscript was presented at the 2010 Academy of Management Annual Conference, Montreal, Canada and was part of the first author’s doctoral dissertation. The study presented in this paper was part of a research project funded mainly by the Canadian Health Services Research Foundation and the Fonds de la recherche en santé du Québec.


Gilbert, F., Denis, J.-L., Lamothe, L., Beaulieu, M.-D., D'amour, D. and Goudreau, J. (2015), "Reforming primary healthcare: from public policy to organizational change", Journal of Health Organization and Management, Vol. 29 No. 1, pp. 92-110.



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Copyright © 2015, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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