Background: The prevalence of congestive heart failure (CHF) in the United States is approximately 4 million, with associated annual health care expenditures exceeding dollar 8 billion. Clinical pathways for CHF have been developed, but they have not been rigorously evaluated regarding efficacy and improvement in the quality of care. We sought to evaluate the effect of a CHF clinical pathway on hospital charges, length of stay, and use of angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors in patients with CHF in a retrospective cohort study.
Methods: We studied 371 patients (age range, 44-92 yr) with discharge diagnoses of CHF in a 376-bed community hospital between July 1996 and December 1997. We conducted chart reviews to determine length of stay, hospital charges, and use of ACE inhibitors.
Results: Of the 371 patients, 174 were assigned to the clinical pathway and 197 were not. Baseline characteristics of the two groups were similar. The benchmark of less than 4 days' in-hospital stay was achieved in 65% of patients on the pathway and 42% who were not on the pathway (odds ratio, 2.6; 95% confidence interval, 1.67-4.05; P < 0.001). The median hospital charges were lower in the group on the clinical pathway (dollar 3,000 versus dollar 5,500, P < 0.001). In addition, 81% of the patients on the clinical pathway were administered ACE inhibitors, compared with 48% of equally eligible patients from the nonpathway group (odds ratio, 4.68; 95% confidence interval, 2.85-7.72; P < 0.001).
Conclusion: The clinical pathway for CHF was associated with increased use of ACE inhibitors as well as reduced length of stay and hospital charges.