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quality improvement

The gaps between evidence, quality and policy

Ami Banerjee
Last edited 21st January 2011

Microcredit is an idea that has won the brains behind it, Professor Muhammad Yunus, a Nobel Peace Prize, and has received billions of dollars in terms of global funding. The idea was simple: very small loans could make a disproportionate difference to a poor person, and so the Grameen Bank and many similar institutions like it have opened around the world. However, only one randomised control trial has ever been done for this intervention in Hyderabad and actually showed no benefit. So what we are saying is that billions of dollars have been spent with potentially no effect. Shouldn’t this study have been done earlier?

It got me thinking that regardless of the arena, whether policy, clinical practice, healthcare or economic, lack of the right kind of evidence can lead to the wrong intervention. As large-scale NHS reforms are upon us, this is particularly important.

Quality improvement is something which all adaptive organisations should be doing as part of their daily work, but it turns out that this fairly new discipline is gaining huge popularity because this vital component of clinical practice has been neglected.

In JAMA this week, the results of an RCT of a multi-centre, multi-component intervention to improve quality of intensive care were published. Like Atul Gawande’s surgical checklist, the authors took 6 quality measures that have been proven to improve patient outcomes(prevention of ventilator-associated pneumonia (VAP), prophylaxis for deep venous thrombosis (DVT), daily spontaneous breathing trials, prevention of catheter-related bloodstream infections, early enteral feeding, and prevention of decubitus ulcers) and looked at over 9000 ITU (intensive therapy unit) admissions across 15 Canadian hospitals.

ITUs were randomised to receive an intensive programme (including audit, video-conferencing and expert-led education) to increase adherence to these 6 measures or to continue normal practice. The authors found that the adoption of the 6 target measures was twice as likely in the intervention group, compared with the control group.

In an accompanying editorial, the urgent need for high quality science such as this complex trial, in quality improvement is highlighted. If it can be done in critical care medicine, then it can be done in any area of healthcare or policy. The fact that it was funded by a healthcare organisation as opposed to a central funding agency is also seen as a positive aspect, since all stakeholders have a part to play in improving quality and reducing costs. Those parties that argue that evidence is too difficult or takes too long might end up making costly mistakes.

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