Intended for healthcare professionals

Education And Debate

Integrated care pathways

BMJ 1998; 316 doi: (Published 10 January 1998) Cite this as: BMJ 1998;316:133
  1. Harry Campbell, consultant in public health medicinea,
  2. Rona Hotchkiss, coordinator of Scottish Pathways Users Groupb,
  3. Nicola Bradshaw, research assistanta,
  4. Mary Porteous, consultant in clinical geneticsa
  1. a Western General Hospital, Edinburgh EH8 9AG
  2. b Western Infirmary, Glasgow G11 6NT
  1. Correspondence to: Dr Campbell
  • Accepted 9 July 1997

Integrated care pathways are structured multidisciplinary care plans which detail essential steps in the care of patients with a specific clinical problem. They have been proposed as a way of encouraging the translation of national guidelines into local protocols and their subsequent application to clinical practice. They are also a means of improving systematic collection and abstraction of clinical data for audit and of promoting change in practice. The degree to which they succeed in realising this potential for improving patient care is still uncertain, but enough evidence exists in their favour to justify more widespread evaluation of their impact. Here we describe integrated care pathways, show how to create and use them, and review the evidence of their effectiveness.

Many initiatives have been introduced in the past two decades to improve clinical effectiveness and thereby patient care. Foremost among these have been clinical guidelines and clinical audit. Concern is regularly expressed, however, that the commitment and enthusiasm of the groups publishing their experience is a major determinant of their success. There are also related concerns about the opportunity costs of audit and guidelines projects.

Guidelines development—literature review, critical appraisal, multidisciplinary consultation, and grading of recommendations by level of evidence—is labour intensive. Support is now available from several sources,1 2 but less attention and support is given to translating established guidelines into local management protocols and their subsequent implementation.3 even though the impact of clinical guidelines in improving clinical practice will largely be determined by progress in these areas. Audit projects often fail to realise their potential because the improved practice identified by the audit is not implemented or, if implemented, its effect is not evaluated.

Integrated care pathways—also known as coordinated care pathways, care maps, or anticipated recovery pathways—are task orientated care plans which detail essential steps …

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