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Does a Clinical Pathway Improve the Quality of Care for Sickle Cell Anemia?

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Background: Clinical pathways are often implemented to improve care, yet their effect on quality of care and outcomes is often not evaluated. The Johns Hopkins Children's Center instituted a clinical pathway in early 1996 to improve the care for pediatric sickle cell vaso-occlusive crisis (VOC) and used a retrospective before–after study to describe how quality of care and outcomes changed after introduction of the pathway.

Results: Physicians used the pathway in 43% of eligible admissions, with use decreasing over time. Patients on the pathway were more likely to receive each of its required elements than those not on the pathway (odds ratios [OR] 1.15–2.49). After pathway implementation, even patients not on the pathway were more likely to receive incentive spirometry than those admitted before pathway availability (OR 1.40). Pathway use was associated with longer length of stay (LOS) and time to oral pain medication, while readmission rates did not change.

Discussion: Use of a clinical pathway improved quality of care by increasing compliance with specific care elements, with mixed results on outcomes. Pathways may improve care for all patients, including nonpathway-treated patients, by influencing underlying practice patterns. Quality improvement committees must regularly monitor outcomes after pathway implementation to evaluate the need for pathway reinforcement and refinement.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: April 1, 2003

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  • Published monthly, The Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety is a peer-reviewed publication dedicated to providing health professionals with the information they need to promote the quality and safety of health care. The Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety invites original manuscripts on the development, adaptation, and/or implementation of innovative thinking, strategies, and practices in improving quality and safety in health care. Case studies, program or project reports, reports of new methodologies or new applications of methodologies, research studies on the effectiveness of improvement interventions, and commentaries on issues and practices are all considered.

    David W. Baker, MD, MPH, FACP, executive vice president for the Division of Healthcare Quality Evaluation at The Joint Commission, is the inaugural editor-in-chief of The Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety.

    Also known as Joint Commission Journal on Quality Improvement and Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Safety
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