Context: Large variations exist among hospitals in the use of treatment resources for community-acquired pneumonia (CAP). Lack of a common approach to the diagnosis and treatment of CAP has been cited as an explanation for these variations.
Objective: To determine if use of a critical pathway improves the efficiency of treatment for CAP without compromising the well-being of patients.
Design: Multicenter controlled clinical trial with cluster randomization and up to 6 weeks of follow-up.
Setting: Nineteen teaching and community hospitals in Canada.
Patients: A total of 1743 patients with CAP presenting to the emergency department at 1 of the participating institutions between January 1 and July 31, 1998.
Intervention: Hospitals were assigned to continue conventional management (n = 10) or implement the critical pathway (n = 9), which consisted of a clinical prediction rule to guide the admission decision, levofloxacin therapy, and practice guidelines.
Main outcome measures: Effectiveness of the critical pathway, as measured by health-related quality of life on the Short-Form 36 Physical Component Summary (SF-36 PCS) scale at 6 weeks; and resource utilization, as measured by the number of bed days per patient managed (BDPM).
Results: Quality of life and the occurrence of complications, readmission, and mortality were not different for the 2 strategies; the 1-sided 95% confidence limit of the between-group difference in the SF-36 PCS change score was 2.4 points, which was within a predefined 3-point boundary for equivalence. Pathway use was associated with a 1.7-day reduction in BDPM (4.4 vs 6.1 days; P = .04) and an 18% decrease in the admission of low-risk patients (31% vs 49%; P = .01). Although inpatients at critical pathway hospitals had more severe disease, they required 1.7 fewer days of intravenous therapy (4.6 vs 6.3 days; P = .01) and were more likely to receive treatment with a single class of antibiotic (64% vs 27%; P<.001).
Conclusion: In this study, implementation of a critical pathway reduced the use of institutional resources without causing adverse effects on the well-being of patients.