Patient Care

Standardized Clinical Pathways’ Effects on Outcomes


Clinical question: What are the effects of implementing standardized clinical pathways on length of stay, cost, readmissions, and patient quality of life?

Dr. Stubblefield

Dr. Stubblefield

Background: As payment models shift from volume- to value-based models, standardized clinical pathways are one option to simultaneously provide high-value care, improve quality, and control costs. Studies of individual clinical pathways suggest that they may be helpful in decreasing utilization, but the measured impact has varied significantly. It is unknown how much of the measured effect is due to the pathway and how much is due to the clinical factors of the disease or patient population studied. No prior studies have evaluated a suite of clinical pathways in pediatric populations.

Study design: Retrospective cohort study.

Setting: Single, 250-bed, tertiary care, freestanding children’s hospital.

Synopsis: Over four years, 15 clinical pathways were created for common pediatric medical, surgical, and psychiatric complaints (urinary tract infection, diabetes, both diabetic ketoacidosis [DKA] and non-DKA, fractures, spinal surgery, croup, neonatal jaundice, neonatal fever, depressive disorders, pyloric stenosis, pneumonia, tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy, disruptive behavior, and cellulitis/abscess).

The pathways were implemented when they were complete, with guidelines coming online throughout the study period. Implementation included an order set in the electronic medical record that included relevant literature references and decision support, online training, and integration into the clinical workflow for providers and nurses. Use of the pathways was monitored, and they were reviewed on at least a quarterly basis and revised, if necessary.

The authors examined pathway use for eligible patients, hospital costs, length of stay, 30-day readmissions, and parent-reported quality of life, both before and after pathway implementation. Patients meeting criteria for complex chronic conditions were excluded from the study.

Before implementation, 3,808 admissions fulfilled pathway criteria, and 2,902 fulfilled criteria after implementation. The pathway for depressive disorders was the most used pathway, with 411 admissions and 95% of eligible patients on the pathway. Both pyloric stenosis and neonatal jaundice had 100% pathway use.

The lowest rate of pathway use was for urinary tract infection (20%). Pathway implementation slowed the rate of rise of hospital costs. Prior to study implementation, the costs were increasing by $126 per month. Following implementation, costs decreased by $29 per month (95% CI, $100 decrease to $34 increase; P=.001). Post-implementation, the length of stay for pathway-eligible patients began a statistically significant downward trend at a rate that yielded a decrease in length of stay of 8.6 hours over a year (P=0.02). There were no differences in 30-day readmissions or parent-reported quality of life.

Bottom line: Systematic development and implementation of clinical pathways for a variety of conditions can contain costs and decrease length of stay while maintaining clinical outcomes and not increasing readmissions.

Citation: Lion KC, Wright DR, Spencer S, Zhou C, Del Beccaro M, Mangione-Smith R. Standardized clinical pathways for hospitalized children and outcomes. Pediatrics. 2016;137(4). pii:e20151202. doi:10.1542/peds.2015-1202.

Dr. Stubblefield is a pediatric hospitalist at Nemours/Alfred I. Dupont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Del., and clinical assistant professor of pediatrics at Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia.

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