Background: Despite applications of models of care and organizational or system-level interventions to improve patient outcomes for chronic disease, consistent improvements have not been achieved. This may reflect a mismatch between the interventions and the nature of the settings in which they are attempted. The application of complex adaptive systems (CAS) framework to understand clinical systems and inform efforts to improve them may lead to more successful interventions. We performed a systematic review of interventions to improve outcomes of patients with congestive heart failure (CHF) to examine whether interventions consistent with CAS are more likely to be effective. We then examine differences between interventions that are most effective for improving outcomes for patients with CHF versus previously published data for type 2 diabetes to explore the potential impact of the nature of the disease on the types of interventions that are more likely to be effective.
Methods: We conducted a systematic review of the literature between 1998 and 2008 of organizational interventions to improve care of patients with CHF. Two independent reviewers independently assessed studies that met inclusion criteria to determine whether each reported intervention reflected one or more CAS characteristics. The effectiveness of interventions was rated as either 0 (no effect), 0.5 (mixed effect), or 1.0 (effective) based on the type, number, and significance of reported outcomes. Fisher's exact test was used to examine the association between CAS characteristics and intervention effectiveness. Specific CAS characteristics associated with intervention effectiveness for CHF were contrasted with previously published data for type 2 diabetes.
Results and discussion: Forty-four studies describing 46 interventions met eligibility criteria. All interventions utilized at least one CAS characteristic, and 85% were either 'mixed effect' or 'effective' in terms of outcomes. The number of CAS characteristics present in each intervention was associated with effectiveness (p < 0.001), supporting the idea that interventions consistent with CAS are more likely to be effective. The individual CAS characteristics associated with CHF intervention effectiveness were learning, self-organization, and co-evolution, a finding different from our previously published analysis of interventions for diabetes. We suggest this difference may be related to the degree of uncertainty involved in caring for patients with diabetes versus CHF.
Conclusion: These results suggest that for interventions to be effective, they must be consistent with the CAS nature of clinical systems. The difference in specific CAS characteristics associated with intervention effectiveness for CHF and diabetes suggests that interventions must also take into account attributes of the disease.