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Keywords:

  • systematic reviews;
  • developing countries;
  • maternal and child health;
  • interventions;
  • quality improvement;
  • continuing education

Summary

There are many systematic reviews of continuing education programmes and educational strategies for quality improvement in health care. Most of the reviewed studies are one-off evaluations rather than impact evaluations with long-term follow-up. There are few systematic reviews of organisational, financial and regulatory interventions, and few high-quality studies. These interventions are probably as or more important than educational strategies, although they are less well evaluated. Few studies have been undertaken in low- and middle-income countries (LMIC) or that address maternal and child health (MCH). Thus, the results of the available studies and reviews need to be interpreted cautiously when applied to LMIC.

Interactive workshops, reminders and multifaceted interventions can improve professional practice, and they generally have moderate effects. Educational outreach visits consistently improve prescribing but have variable effects on other behaviours. Audit and feedback interventions have variable effects on professional practice, but most often these are small to moderate effects. Mass-media and patient-mediated interventions may change professional practice. Multifaceted interventions that combine several quality-improvement strategies are also effective but may not be more so than single interventions. While all of these strategies are applicable to MCH in LMIC, the applicability of the results to rural settings, in particular, may be limited. Use of these strategies could exacerbate inequalities, and this should be taken into consideration when planning implementation. Scaling up and sustainability may be difficult to achieve in LMIC contexts and need careful consideration.

The use of financial interventions has not been well studied; financial incentives and disincentives may be difficult to use effectively and efficiently, although their impact on practice needs to be considered. Organisational interventions are likely to be important, given that there are often underlying organisational or system problems. Regulatory interventions have not been well evaluated, but may sometimes be both inexpensive and effective. There are no ‘magic bullets’ or simple solutions for ensuring the quality of health care services. Interventions should be selected or tailored to address the underlying reasons for a failure to deliver effective services. Decision-makers should select the most appropriate interventions for specific problems. This requires a governance structure that clearly assigns responsibility for quality-improvement activities, priority setting, selection and design of interventions, and evaluation.