Background: During the months of July, August, and September 1993, we implemented a respiratory care assessment-treatment pilot study on the orthopedic surgery floor in our hospital. The purpose of the study was to determine feasibility and establish cost-effective treatment plans with quality patient outcomes, while maintaining appropriate communications with physicians and nursing staff.
Study development & implementation: The study's Task Force developed protocols for oxygen therapy, aerosolized medication therapy, volume expansion therapy, and bronchial hygiene therapy using the American Association for Respiratory Care's Clinical Practice Guidelines as supporting documents. Meetings were held with the orthopedic surgeons and nursing staff to inform them of the key components of the pilot program. Ten patient evaluators were trained to assess patients and implement treatment plans.
Evaluation methods: A reference book was established that contained the protocols and support material. Patient outcomes were evaluated using previously established quality assurance plans. The length of stay, procedural volume, and cost data were collected.
Evaluation results: More than 50% of the orders received during the pilot program were for "Respiratory Care Protocol." This allowed the patient care evaluator the flexibility to initiate one of the approved protocols if indicated. No changes in patient outcomes were noted and average length of stay remained unchanged during the pilot study compared to the base period. Treatment volumes decreased, resulting in identified cost savings of $5,318 during the study. Nurses and physicians supported protocol implementation, and increased communication among caregivers was documented. We believe that professionalism of the RCPs was enhanced without compromising the ultimate decision-making responsibilities of the physician.
Conclusions: The use of respiratory care protocols is an acceptable method of developing clinically effective and fiscally responsible care plans. RCPs at our hospital were able to implement care plans that resulted in cost savings without a measured change in patient outcomes. Approval has been extended from the Executive Committee of the medical staff to expand hospital-wide.