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Keywords:

  • nursing management;
  • Nursing Services Delivery Theory;
  • open system approach;
  • organization structure;
  • quality of care;
  • staffing;
  • work organization

meyer r.m. & o’brien-pallas l.l. (2010) Nursing services delivery theory: an open system approach. Journal of Advanced Nursing66(12), 2828–2838.

Abstract

Aim.  This paper is a discussion of the derivation of the Nursing Services Delivery Theory from the application of open system theory to large-scale organizations.

Background.  The underlying mechanisms by which staffing indicators influence outcomes remain under-theorized and unmeasured, resulting in a ‘black box’ that masks the nature and organization of nursing work. Theory linking nursing work, staffing, work environments, and outcomes in different settings is urgently needed to inform management decisions about the allocation of nurse staffing resources in organizations.

Data sources.  A search of CINAHL and Business Source Premier for the years 1980–2008 was conducted using the following terms: theory, models, organization, organizational structure, management, administration, nursing units, and nursing. Seminal works were included.

Discussion.  The healthcare organization is conceptualized as an open system characterized by energy transformation, a dynamic steady state, negative entropy, event cycles, negative feedback, differentiation, integration and coordination, and equifinality. The Nursing Services Delivery Theory proposes that input, throughput, and output factors interact dynamically to influence the global work demands placed on nursing work groups at the point of care in production subsystems.

Implications for nursing.  The Nursing Services Delivery Theory can be applied to varied settings, cultures, and countries and supports the study of multi-level phenomena and cross-level effects.

Conclusion.  The Nursing Services Delivery Theory gives a relational structure for reconciling disparate streams of research related to nursing work, staffing, and work environments. The theory can guide future research and the management of nursing services in large-scale healthcare organizations.