With whom are you dealing? Using social network analysis as a tool to strengthen service delivery structures for low socioeconomic status populations

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Lotte Prevo
Department of Health Promotion, Maastricht University, Netherlands.
http://orcid.org/0000-0001-5469-5133

Liesbeth Mercken
Department of Health Promotion, Maastricht University, Netherlands.

Maria Jansen
Department of Health Services Research, Maastricht University; Academic Collaborative Centre for Public Health, Public Health Service Southern Limburg, Heerlen, Netherlands.

Stef Kremers
Department of Health Promotion, Maastricht University, Netherlands.

ABSTRACT

Background: Health disparities between populations with different socioeconomic status (SES) are increasing. Although a wide variety of support service organizations and arrangements are in place, no general overview of this social network, its reach, and harmonization of services surrounding low-SES populations are available. The present participatory health research study examined the current network structure and the utility of using social network analysis (SNA) as a tool to improve service delivery structures.

Design and methods: We applied a mixed-methods study design. An online-questionnaire was used to examine the relationships among organizations assumed to support low-SES individuals in the municipality of Vaals, the Netherlands. In addition, semi-structured interviews and a networking session were used to examine the current network structure and to explore opportunities for improvement.

Results: The SNA revealed a weak network structure, and all interviewed professionals mentioned that the current structure should be improved. Participants indicated that a first step would be to install a central information system.

Conclusions: SNA can be a useful tool to gain more in-depth insights into the relations within a service delivery network. The professionals were assisted in discovering new organizations that could help them reach low SES populations and in harmonizing and improving their service delivery.

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