Background and objectives
A clinical trial in 93 National Health Service hospitals evaluated a quality improvement programme for emergency abdominal surgery, designed to improve mortality by improving the patient care pathway. Large variation was observed in implementation approaches, and the main trial result showed no mortality reduction. Our objective therefore was to evaluate whether trial participation led to care pathway implementation and to study the relationship between care pathway implementation and use of six recommended implementation strategies.
We performed a hospital-level time-series analysis using data from the Enhanced Peri-Operative Care for High-risk patients trial. Care pathway implementation was defined as achievement of >80% median reliability in 10 measured care processes. Mean monthly process performance was plotted on run charts. Process improvement was defined as an observed run chart signal, using probability-based ‘shift’ and ‘runs’ rules. A new median performance level was calculated after an observed signal.
Of 93 participating hospitals, 80 provided sufficient data for analysis, generating 800 process measure charts from 20 305 patient admissions over 27 months. No hospital reliably implemented all 10 processes. Overall, only 279 of the 800 processes were improved (3 (2–5) per hospital) and 14/80 hospitals improved more than six processes. Mortality risk documented (57/80 (71%)), lactate measurement (42/80 (53%)) and cardiac output guided fluid therapy (32/80 (40%)) were most frequently improved. Consultant-led decision making (14/80 (18%)), consultant review before surgery (17/80 (21%)) and time to surgery (14/80 (18%)) were least frequently improved. In hospitals using ≥5 implementation strategies, 9/30 (30%) hospitals improved ≥6 care processes compared with 0/11 hospitals using ≤2 implementation strategies.
Only a small number of hospitals improved more than half of the measured care processes, more often when at least five of six implementation strategies were used. In a longer term project, this understanding may have allowed us to adapt the intervention to be effective in more hospitals.