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1.  A cluster randomized trial to assess the effect of clinical pathways for patients with stroke: results of the clinical pathways for effective and appropriate care study 
BMC Medicine  2012;10:71.
Background
Clinical pathways (CPs) are used to improve the outcomes of acute stroke, but their use in stroke care is questionable, because the evidence on their effectiveness is still inconclusive. The objective of this study was to evaluate whether CPs improve the outcomes and the quality of care provided to patients after acute ischemic stroke.
Methods
This was a multicentre cluster-randomized trial, in which 14 hospitals were randomized to the CP arm or to the non intervention/usual care (UC) arm. Healthcare workers in the CP arm received 3 days of training in quality improvement of CPs and in use of a standardized package including information on evidence-based key interventions and indicators. Healthcare workers in the usual-care arm followed their standard procedures. The teams in the CP arm developed their CPs over a 6-month period. The primary end point was mortality. Secondary end points were: use of diagnostic and therapeutic procedures, implementation of organized care, length of stay, re-admission and institutionalization rates after discharge, dependency levels, and complication rates.
Results
Compared with the patients in the UC arm, the patients in the CP arm had a significantly lower risk of mortality at 7 days (OR = 0.10; 95% CI 0.01 to 0.95) and significantly lower rates of adverse functional outcomes, expressed as the odds of not returning to pre-stroke functioning in their daily life (OR = 0.42; 95 CI 0.18 to 0.98). There was no significant effect on 30-day mortality. Compared with the UC arm, the hospital diagnostic and therapeutic procedures were performed more appropriately in the CP arm, and the evidence-based key interventions and organized care were more applied in the CP arm.
Conclusions
CPs can significantly improve the outcomes of patients with ischemic patients with stroke, indicating better application of evidence-based key interventions and of diagnostic and therapeutic procedures. This study tested a new hypothesis and provided evidence on how CPs can work.
Trial registration
ClinicalTrials.gov ID: [NCT00673491].
doi:10.1186/1741-7015-10-71
PMCID: PMC3403956  PMID: 22781160
2.  A cluster randomized trial to assess the impact of clinical pathways for patients with stroke: rationale and design of the Clinical Pathways for Effective and Appropriate Care Study [NCT00673491] 
Background
Patients with stroke should have access to a continuum of care from organized stroke units in the acute phase, to appropriate rehabilitation and secondary prevention measures. Moreover to improve the outcomes for acute stroke patients from an organizational perspective, the use of multidisciplinary teams and the delivery of continuous stroke education both to the professionals and to the public, and the implementation of evidence-based stroke care are recommended. Clinical pathways are complex interventions that can be used for this purpose. However in stroke care the use of clinical pathways remains questionable because little prospective controlled data has demonstrated their effectiveness. The purpose of this study is to determine whether clinical pathways could improve the quality of the care provided to the patients affected by stroke in hospital and through the continuum of the care.
Methods
Two-arm, cluster-randomized trial with hospitals and rehabilitation long-term care facilities as randomization units. 14 units will be randomized either to arm 1 (clinical pathway) or to arm 2 (no intervention, usual care). The sample will include 238 in each group, this gives a power of 80%, at 5% significance level. The primary outcome measure is 30-days mortality. The impact of the clinical pathways along the continuum of care will also be analyzed by comparing the length of hospital stay, the hospital re-admissions rates, the institutionalization rates after hospital discharge, the patients' dependency levels, and complication rates. The quality of the care provided to the patients will be assessed by monitoring the use of diagnostic and therapeutic procedures during hospital stay and rehabilitation, and by the use of key quality indicators at discharge. The implementation of organized care will be also evaluated.
Conclusion
The management of patients affected by stroke involves the expertise of several professionals, which can result in poor coordination or inefficiencies in patient treatment, and clinical pathways can significantly improve the outcomes of these patients. It is proposed that this study will test a new hypothesis and provide evidence of how clinical pathways can work.
Trial Registration
ClinicalTrials.gov ID [NCT00673491]
doi:10.1186/1472-6963-8-223
PMCID: PMC2585086  PMID: 18980664
3.  A cluster randomized controlled trial of a clinical pathway for hospital treatment of heart failure: study design and population 
Background
The hospital treatment of heart failure frequently does not follow published guidelines, potentially contributing to the high morbidity, mortality and economic cost of this disorder. Consequently the development of clinical pathways has the potential to reduce the current variability in care, enhance guideline adherence, and improve outcomes for patients. Despite enthusiasm and diffusion, the widespread acceptance of clinical pathways remain questionable because very little prospective controlled data demonstrated their effectiveness. The Experimental Prospective Study on the Effectiveness and Efficiency of the Implementation of Clinical Pathways was designed in order to conduct a rigorous evaluation of clinical pathways in hospital treatment of acute heart failure. The primary objective of the trial was to evaluate the effectiveness of the implementation of clinical pathways for hospital treatment of heart failure in Italian hospitals.
Methods/design
Two-arm, cluster-randomized trial. 14 community hospitals were randomized either to arm 1 (clinical pathway: appropriate use of practice guidelines and supplies of drugs and ancillary services, new organization and procedures, patient education, etc.) or to arm 2 (no intervention, usual care). 424 patients sample (212 in each group), 80% of power at the 5% significance level (two-sided). The primary outcome measure is in-hospital mortality. We will also analyze the impact of the clinical pathways comparing the length and the appropriateness of the stay, the rate of unscheduled readmissions, the customers' satisfaction and the costs treating the patients with the pathways and with the current practice along all the observation period. The quality of the care will be assessed by monitoring the use of diagnostic and therapeutic procedures during hospital stay and by measuring key quality indicators at discharge.
Discussion
This paper examines the design of the evaluation of a complex intervention. Since clinical pathways are made up of various interconnecting parts we have chosen the cluster-randomized controlled trial because is widely accepted as the most reliable method of determining effectiveness when measuring cost-effectiveness in real practice.
Trial Registration
ClinicalTrials.gov ID [NCT00519038]
doi:10.1186/1472-6963-7-179
PMCID: PMC2204000  PMID: 17986361

Results 1-3 (3)