A critical evaluation of clinical practice guidelines in neonatal medicine: does their use improve quality and lower costs?

Authors

  • T. Allen Merritt MD,. MHA,

    1. Professor of Pediatrics, Oregon Health Sciences University, Portland, Oregon 97012, USA,
    2. The Family Birthing Centre and Neonatal Intensive Care Center, St. Charles Medical Center, Bend, Oregon 97102, USA
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  • Marjorie Gold RN,. MPA,

    1. The Family Birthing Centre and Neonatal Intensive Care Center, St. Charles Medical Center, Bend, Oregon 97102, USA
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  • Jodi Holland RN,. MSN

    1. The Family Birthing Centre and Neonatal Intensive Care Center, St. Charles Medical Center, Bend, Oregon 97102, USA
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Dr T. A. Merritt2500 NENeff RoadBendOregon 97701USA

Abstract

Clinical practice guidelines and care pathways have become a focus of quality improvement efforts in Neonatology. Health care administrators believe that using clinical practice parameters reduces health care costs, improves quality of care, and limits malpractice liability. Practice guidelines and surveys of consumer satisfaction have grown in use partly because third-party payers, insurers, and health maintenance organizations, as well as hospital administrators bent on reducing variable costs of care and contracting for capitated care have championed their development, implementation, and monitoring. Overall there is minimal evidence-based medicine to support that neonatal outcomes have benefitted from their implementation, although some studies show affirmative effects in limited populations or in a limited number of centres. For highly autonomous physicians and nurses this standardization of medical decision making may represent a difficult transition into efforts to improve quality, based on evidence-based care, and in some instances into corporate medicine. By realigning the traditional values of patient relationships, including parent involvement, the implementation of guidelines has been fast-tracked in some institutions, without appropriate audit to determine their effectiveness in achieving their goals. However, because guidelines and clinical pathways are here to stay, neonatologists need to think critically about how their content and method of implementation, monitoring and modification may influence medical and nursing teaching and decision making in the future. If guidelines are introduced primarily as a cost savings or containment tool that ignores their impact on the quality of medical care and thereby restricts needed care, then neonatologists must be quick to challenge the potentially damaging and inappropriate use of guidelines and care pathways. Several international efforts are underway to study both the impact of evidence-based guidelines and to determine if they can be imported from one care system into another. Furthermore, there are many medico-legal implications of guideline and clinical pathway implementation that may not favour physicians and other neonatal care practitioners, and leave to hospitals, insurers, and ultimately the courts, decisions regarding evidence-based care. Neonatologists and other practitioners in neonatal care centres should critically analyse the goals of guideline development, implementation and monitoring and should restrict themselves to guideline directed care only at those practices for which there is evidence supporting their implementation and continuous monitoring.

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