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Readers Write: Building Evidence-Based Care Plans That Drive Better Outcomes

February 8, 2021 Readers Write No Comments

Building Evidence-Based Care Plans That Drive Better Outcomes
By Nan Hou, PhD, RN

Nan Hou is managing editor of Zynx Health, part of the Hearst Health Network, of Los Angeles, CA.


Evidence-based care plans play an essential role in guiding interdisciplinary care teams toward the most effective steps likely to yield high-quality care and the best patient outcomes.

For hospital-based interdisciplinary teams in particular, care plans offer several important benefits — including ensuring continuity of care across nursing shifts, promoting interdisciplinary collaboration across clinical and operational teams, improving patient engagement, and helping meet documentation requirements from payers and regulators.

However, too often, evidence-based guidelines either go ignored or take too long to implement. While estimates vary, the most frequently cited figure holds that it takes about 17 years for new knowledge generated by randomized controlled trials to be incorporated into practice. Even then, application is highly uneven, according to the 2001 U.S. Institutes of Medicine’s landmark report “Crossing the Quality Chasm.”

To promote greater adherence to evidence requires getting the right information to the right person at the right time in the workflow. For many hospital-based patients, this process begins with a care plan created by an interdisciplinary team that includes key information such as diagnosis and goals and is updated as the patient progresses. When developed by experienced care team and based on the best available evidence, care plans enable hospitals to standardize care, improve outcomes, and maximize performance.

One useful model for evaluating care plans is the Agency for Healthcare Research & Quality’s “Clinical Decision Support 5 Rights” framework. The model states that providers can achieve clinical decision-supported improvements in desired healthcare outcomes by communicating the following five “rights”:

  1. The right information: evidence-based, suitable to guide action, pertinent to the circumstance.
  2. To the right person: considering all members of the care team, including clinicians, patients, and their caretakers.
  3. In the right intervention format: such as an alert, order set, or reference information to answer a clinical question.
  4. Through the right channel: for example, a clinical information system such as an EHR or a more general channel, such as the internet or a mobile device.
  5. At the right time in workflow: for example, at time of decision, action or need

Creating evidence-based practices

One of the foremost goals of evidence-based practice is to create standardized care that is supported by data and facts, reducing unnecessary variation in care. According to a report originally published in the BMJ, there are four key steps for creating evidence-based practices:

  • Formulate a clear clinical question from a patient’s problem.
  • Search the literature for relevant clinical articles.
  • Evaluate the evidence for its validity and usefulness.
  • Implement useful findings in clinical practice.

By following evidence, treatment is based on research and knowledge rather than tradition or intuition. Providers must weigh the value of evidence-based interventions, which requires critical thinking and an evaluation of the quality of the research and its conclusions. Instead of relying on their own personal beliefs, it is essential that providers select evidence that is centered on what is best for the patient.

Elements of a strong care plan

A well-designed care plan focuses on the whole person, taking into account both clinical factors and social determinants of health, such as economic security, and access to food, shelter, and transportation. While the plan must include interventions to treat the current medical issues, it must also help caregivers anticipate and manage the risk of future complications, including after discharge.

Further, it is essential that care plans foster a team-based, collaborative approach that reaches across disciplines in a variety of roles, including pharmacists, social workers, dieticians, behavioral health specialists, physical therapists, and occupational therapists.

To create care plans for individual patients, interdisciplinary teams use measurements from the latest clinical summaries, physician notes, and other electronic health record (EHR) data, in addition to information gathered directly from patients. For more common conditions such as heart failure, care team members often consult templates that identify the steps patients must take to achieve certain health goals, manage comorbid conditions, and avoid complications.

The importance of current evidence

Evidence, of course, plays a critical role in the development of care plans, but staying current with the best and latest evidence-based practices is a substantial challenge for any practicing clinician. For example, a study published in the Journal of the Medical Library Association estimated the volume of medical literature potentially relevant to a primary care physician published in a single month, and found that a physician trained in medical epidemiology would need 628 hours to evaluate all the articles.

To overcome this limitation, many hospitals rely on regularly updated content libraries that are built on the best available evidence, national guidelines, and performance measures. These content libraries include medical conditions and procedures, summaries of studies, and links to evidence in support of care recommendations. Armed with a source of reliable evidence-based content that can be easily incorporated into care plans, care team members can be confident that the plans they formulate are consistent with the most current and credible standards of care.

While virtually all healthcare stakeholders agree that using evidence-based care plans supports better patient outcomes, putting evidence into practice is often easier said than done. However, by leveraging pre-populated, evidence-based content libraries, hospitals can reduce much of the heavy lifting, empowering their interdisciplinary staff to develop care plans that facilitate communication and collaboration, ease care transitions, and ultimately drive superior patient care and outcomes.

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