Identifying integration and differentiation in a Hospital's logistical system: a social network analysis of a case study

Annelies van der Ham*, Frits van Merode, Dirk Ruwaard, Arno van Raak

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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Background: Integration, the coordination and alignment of tasks, has been promoted widely in order to improve the performance of hospitals. Both organization theory and social network analysis offer perspectives on integration. This exploratory study research aims to understand how a hospital's logistical system works, and in particular to what extent there is integration and differentiation. More specifically, it first describes how a hospital organizes logistical processes; second, it identifies the agents and the interactions for organizing logistical processes, and, third, it establishes the extent to which tasks are segmented into subsystems, which is referred to as differentiation, and whether these tasks are coordinated and aligned, thus achieving integration.

Methods: The study is based on case study research carried out in a hospital in the Netherlands. All logistical tasks that are executed for surgery patients were studied. Using a mixed method, data were collected from the Hospital Information System (HIS), documentation, observations and interviews. These data were used to perform a social network analysis and calculate the network metrics of the hospital network.

Results: This paper shows that 23 tasks are executed by 635 different agents who interact through 31,499 interaction links. The social network of the hospital demonstrates both integration and differentiation. The network appears to function differently from what is assumed in literature, as the network does not reflect the formal organizational structure of the hospital, and tasks are mainly executed across functional silos. Nurses and physicians perform integrative tasks and two agents who mainly coordinate the tasks in the network, have no hierarchical position towards other agents. The HIS does not seem to fulfill the interactional needs of agents.

Conclusions: This exploratory study reveals the network structure of a hospital. The cross-functional collaboration, the integration found, and position of managers, coordinators, nurses and doctors suggests a possible gap between organizational perspectives on hospitals and reality. This research sets a basis for further research that should focus on the relation between network structure and performance, on how integration is achieved and in what way organization theory concepts and social network analysis could be used in conjunction with one another.

Original languageEnglish
Article number857
Number of pages18
JournalBMC Health Services Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 11 Sept 2020


  • Differentiation
  • Hospital
  • Integration
  • Logistics
  • Social network analysis
  • CARE

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