Factors influencing acceptance, adoption and adherence to sentinel node biopsy recommendations in the Australian Melanoma Management Guidelines: a qualitative study using an implementation science framework.

Smith AL, Watts CG, Henderson M, Long GV, Rapport F, Saw RPM, Scolyer RA, Spillane AJ, Thompson JF, Cust AE. Implement Sci Commun. 2022 Oct 1;3(1):103. doi: 10.1186/s43058-022-00351-w. PMID: 36183121; PMCID: PMC9526940.


Background: Sentinel node biopsy (SN biopsy) is a surgical procedure used to accurately stage patients with primary melanoma at high risk of recurrence. Although Australian Melanoma Management Guidelines recommend SN biopsy be considered in patients with melanomas > 1 mm thick, SN biopsy rates in Australia are reportedly low. Our objective was to identify factors impacting the acceptance, adoption and adherence to the Australian SN biopsy guideline recommendations.

Methods: Opinions of Australian key informants including clinicians, representatives from melanoma education and training providers, professional associations and colleges, and melanoma advocacy organisations were collected through semi-structured interviews (n = 29) and from publicly released statements (n = 14 news articles). Data analysis involved inductive and deductive thematic analysis using Flottorp’s determinants framework.

Results: A complex interplay of contemporary and historical factors was identified as influencing acceptance, adoption and adherence to the SN biopsy guideline recommendations at the individual, guideline, patient, organisational and social levels. Expert and peer opinion leaders have played an important role in facilitating or inhibiting adoption of guideline recommendations, as have financial incentives driven by healthcare-funding policies and non-financial incentives including professional identity and standing. Of critical importance have been the social and knowledge boundaries that exist between different professional groups to whom the guidelines apply (surgeons, dermatologists and primary care practitioners) with adherence to the guideline recommendations having the potential to shift work across professional boundaries, altering a clinician’s workflow and revenue. More recently, the emergence of effective immunotherapies and targeted therapies for patients at high risk of recurrence, the emergence of new opinion leaders on the topic (in medical oncology), and patient demands for accurate staging are playing crucial roles in overcoming the resistance to change created by these social and knowledge boundaries.

Conclusions: Acceptance and adherence to SN biopsy guideline recommendations in Australia over the past 20 years has involved a process of renegotiation and reframing of the evidence for SN biopsy in melanoma by clinicians from different professional groups and networks. This process has helped to refine the evidence for SN biopsy and our understanding of appropriate adoption. New effective systemic therapies have changed the balance towards accepting guideline recommendations.