Understanding specialist sharing: A mixed-method exploration in an increasingly price-competitive hospital market

Daan Westra*, Federica Angeli, Evelina Jatautaitė, Martin Carree, Dirk Ruwaard

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction Medical specialists seem to increasingly work in- and be affiliated to- multiple organizations. We define this phenomenon as specialist sharing. This form of inter-organizational cooperation has received scant scholarly attention. We investigate the extent of- and motives behind- specialist sharing, in the price-competitive hospital market of the Netherlands. Methods A mixed-method was adopted. Social network analysis was used to quantitatively examine the extent of the phenomenon. The affiliations of more than 15,000 medical specialists to any Dutch hospital were transformed into 27 inter-hospital networks, one for each medical specialty, in 2013 and in 2015. Between February 2014 and February 2016, 24 semi-structured interviews with 20 specialists from 13 medical specialties and four hospital executives were conducted to provide in-depth qualitative insights regarding the personal and organizational motives behind the phenomenon. Results Roughly, 20% of all medical specialists are affiliated to multiple hospitals. The phenomenon occurs in all medical specialties and all Dutch hospitals share medical specialists. Rates of specialist sharing have increased significantly between 2013 and 2015 in 14 of the 27 specialties. Personal motives predominantly include learning, efficiency, and financial benefits. Increased workload and discontinuity of care are perceived as potential drawbacks. Hospitals possess the final authority to decide whether and which specialists are shared. Adhering to volume norms and strategic considerations are seen as their main drivers to share specialists. Discussion We conclude that specialist sharing should be interpreted as a form of inter-organizational cooperation between healthcare organizations, facilitating knowledge flow between them. Although quality improvement is an important perceived factor underpinning specialist sharing, evidence of enhanced quality of care is anecdotal. Additionally, the widespread occurrence of the phenomenon and the underlying strategic considerations could pose an antitrust infringement.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)133-142
Number of pages10
JournalSocial science and medicine
Early online date14 Jun 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2016


  • Antitrust
  • Collaboration
  • Healthcare competition
  • Medical specialists
  • Quality of care
  • Social network analysis
  • Specialist sharing
  • The Netherlands

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