Before following the steps in Part 3, an organization should first make a commitment to improve Hypertension Control and complete the initial steps outlined in the previous section that include:
Performance on this measure indicates how effectively all the steps of the processes used to deliver care work together to achieve optimum blood pressure for patients. Since there are so many factors that can have an impact on blood pressure control, it helps to visualize how these steps are mapped. The next section defines Critical Pathway and illustrates the application of this concept to implement Hypertension Control.
A critical pathway, also known as a clinical pathway, is a visual depiction of the process steps that result in a particular service or care. The sequence and relationship among the steps are displayed, which reveals a map of the care process. Additional information, including tools and resources regarding the mapping of care processes, can be found in the Redesigning a System of Care to Promote QI module. In an ideal world, the care process is reflective of evidence-based medical guidelines. Evidence-based medicine aims to apply the best available evidence gained from the scientific method for medical decision making. (13)
A map of the care process steps that incorporates all of the known evidence and follows respected evidence-based medical guidelines can be considered the idealized critical pathway. While the needs of individual patients should always be considered, clinical guidelines synthesize the best evidence into a pragmatic set of action steps that strive to provide the optimum health care delivery system. It is important to emphasize that clinical evidence and guidelines will evolve as knowledge progresses; therefore, the idealized critical pathway may evolve over time and not meet the needs of every individual.
Walkthrough of the Idealized Critical Pathway
This critical pathway exists both inside the clinic and beyond the clinic walls. Each of these steps is important to effective blood pressure management and emphasizes the importance of all members of the care team in achieving hypertension control:
1. The patient presents for care as a result of any of the following:
6. Patient is discharged and scheduled for follow up as medically indicated. Support staff emphasizes key education points and hypertension management changes. A current medication list is printed for the patient.
7. A member of the care team contacts the patient a few days after the visit to emphasize key points in the education provided and to ensure that barriers to achieving the blood pressure target are addressed, such as medication refills. Patient is advised of the importance regarding follow-up care and the need for monitoring as medically indicated (at minimum annually).
A few important notes:
In addition to understanding the steps for providing Hypertension Control, factors that interfere with optimal care should be understood. As there may be several of these factors, a QI team may find it helpful to focus its attention on factors that interfere with ideal outcomes. This becomes especially useful as plans are developed to mitigate these factors.
Factors that have an impact on Hypertension Control can be organized into those that are patient-related, relative to the care team, and a result of the health system. Overlaps exist in these categorizations, but it is useful to consider factors that have an impact on care processes from each perspective to avoid overlooking important ones.
Patient factors are characteristics that patients possess, or have control over, that have an impact on care. Examples of patient factors are age, race, diet, and lifestyle choices. Common patient factors may need to be addressed more systematically, such as, a targeted approach to address low health literacy, or a systematic approach to educate staff on the cultural norms of a particular ethnic group. Examples of how patient factors may influence blood pressure control include:
Care team factors are controlled by the care team. These types of factors may include care processes, workflows, how staff follows procedures, and how effectively the team works together. Care team factors that may influence Hypertension Control include:
Health system factors are controlled at the high level of an organization and often involve finance and operational issues. Health system factors that may influence care for hypertensive patients include:
These factors, when added to the critical pathway, create another dimension to the map as shown in Figure 3.2:
Next, a team may identify specific factors that pertain to the way care is provided for its patients as in Example 3.1:
|The task force brainstorms on factors that have an impact on the arrow (or opportunity) between Steps 6, 7 and 1 of the Critical Pathway for Hypertension Control (from Figure 3.2).|
|Factor Category||Factors pertinent to our organization - Steps 6, 7 and 1|
|Patient||Limited appreciation of the gravity of the disease and the importance of regular follow-up with patient's Primary Care Provider (PCP), cultural norms and myths about blood pressure and medications, financial limitations to seeking care, and transportation barriers|
|Care Team||No consistency in appointment-reminder process for patients; inefficient workflow with prolonged patient waiting times causing high no-show rates; no consistent process to follow-up on missed appointments; available educational materials are not culturally appropriate for the population|
|Health System||High cost of medical visits; next available appointment for a patient is in four weeks; patients needing medication refills are required to schedule an appointment to see a provider; policy of organization for all patients to have a follow-up appointment regardless of reason for visit is “clogging” schedules and limiting access for those patients needing appointments|
The team continues to look at different parts of the pathway to identify relevant impacts for each part. Once it is able to evaluate where there are potential opportunities for improvement, it can use this information to target its efforts. Additional examples of strategies to improve care for the measure, Hypertension Control, are described in the Improvement Strategies section of this module.
Once the team visualizes the pathway and identifies opportunities for improved care, the next step is to collect and track data to test and document them. First, a QI team needs to determine how to collect data to support its improvement work. This step is essential for understanding the performance of its current care processes, before improvements are applied, and then monitoring its performance over time.detailed and stepwise approach follows to explain the types of infrastructure elements needed to gather data to support improvement. Second, changes an organization is making to improve care processes and their effects must be tracked. Tracking the impact of changes reassures the team that the changes caused their intended effects.
There are three major purposes for maintaining a data infrastructure for quality improvement work:
The first step to creating a data infrastructure for monitoring the performance measure is to determine the baseline. A baseline is the calculation of a measure before a quality improvement project is initiated. It is later used as the basis for comparison as changes are made throughout the improvement process. For the Hypertension Control measure, an organization can determine the percentage of hypertensive patients with a blood pressure less than 140/90 mm Hg. Systems of care reflect the current organizational infrastructure and the patient's interactions with existing care processes and the care team.
Baseline data is compared to subsequent data calculated similarly to monitor the impact of quality improvement efforts. The details of how to calculate the data must be determined to ensure that the calculation is accurate and reproducible. The difference between how an organization provides care now (baseline) and how it wants to provide care (aim) is the gap that must be closed by the improvement work.
The next step of data infrastructure development involves a process in place to calculate the measure over time as improvements are tested. A QI team's work is to make changes, and it is prudent to monitor that those changes result in achieving the stated aim. This involves deciding how often to calculate the measure and adhering to the calculation methodology.
Finally, an organization's data infrastructure must include systematic processes that allow analysis, interpretation, and action on the data collected. Knowledge of performance is insufficient for improvement. It is important for an organization to understand why performance is measured and to predict which changes will improve Hypertension Control based on an organization's specific situation. Collecting data related to specific changes and overall progress related to achieving an organization's specified aim are important to improvement work. The next section describes in more detail how to develop a data infrastructure to support improvement.
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