Background: The introduction of intranet services in a district general hospital provided an opportunity to put evidence based national guidelines online to facilitate access and promote application of best practice in acute medical care. This study evaluated the effectiveness of this approach.
Method: Local guidelines were made available online at ward terminals after they had been distributed in paper form. An interrupted time series design was used to evaluate the impact on compliance with three preselected guidelines, which addressed the management of suspected deep vein thrombosis, upper gastrointestinal bleeding, and stroke. This was supplemented by a qualitative assessment of the views of medical staff.
Results: There was a significant increase in the adherence to the guidelines for stroke when they were made available online, but this was not demonstrable for deep vein thrombosis or upper gastrointestinal bleeding.
Qualitative interviews with junior medical staff and consultants after the study was completed revealed that there was confusion regarding the application of the guidelines for deep vein thrombosis and little active support from the gastroenterologists for the guidelines for upper gastrointestinal bleeding. The stroke guidelines were actively promoted by their author and widely supported.
Conclusion: Making guidelines available online will not be effective unless they are actively promoted and represent a consensus view.