The Role of Clinical Pathways in Reducing the Economic Burden of Stroke
Douglas J. Lanska
Clinical pathways are a potentially beneficial, but largely untested, management strategy for both improving healthcare efficiency and decreasing costs while also maintaining or improving quality of care. Although relatively few clinical pathways for stroke have been described in the medical literature and although the reported benefits have been mixed, more and more hospitals are adopting clinical pathways as a management strategy for patients with stroke. In published clinical pathways for acute stroke, the following benefits have been reported: 1. reduced use of expensive diagnostic studies 2. fewer complications (particularly the frequency of urinary tract infections and aspiration pneumonia) 3. reduced duration of hospital stay 4. reduced patient charges; and 5. lower mortality. However, these reported benefits are not consistent across all studies and some outcomes are highly correlated. Despite potential benefits, many clinical pathway programmes fail because of inadequate planning and shortcomings of implementation. Effective implementation of clinical pathways requires strong administrative and medical staff leadership, active participation of all clinical disciplines involved in the care of patients on the pathway, provision of regular feedback to clinicians, sufficient resources, improved documentation, incorporation of the entire episode of care into the pathway, integration with ongoing quality and utilisation management programmes, and periodic evaluation and modification.
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