Complex Interventions Across Primary and Secondary Care to Optimize Population Kidney Health: A Systematic Review and Realist Synthesis to Understand Contexts, Mechanisms, and Outcomes

Clin J Am Soc Nephrol. 2023 Mar 8;18(5):563-572. doi: 10.2215/CJN.0000000000000136. Online ahead of print.


Background: CKD affects 850 million people worldwide and is associated with high risk of kidney failure and death. Existing, evidence-based treatments are not implemented in at least a third of eligible patients, and there is socioeconomic inequity in access to care. While interventions aiming to improve delivery of evidence-based care exist, these are often complex, with intervention mechanisms acting and interacting in specific contexts to achieve desired outcomes.

Methods: We undertook realist synthesis to develop a model of these context-mechanism-outcome interactions. We included references from two existing systematic reviews and from database searches. Six reviewers produced a long list of study context-mechanism-outcome configurations based on review of individual studies. During group sessions, these were synthesized to produce an integrated model of intervention mechanisms, how they act and interact to deliver desired outcomes, and in which contexts these mechanisms work.

Results: Searches identified 3371 relevant studies, of which 60 were included, most from North America and Europe. Key intervention components included automated detection of higher-risk cases in primary care with management advice to general practitioners, educational support, and non-patient-facing nephrologist review. Where successful, these components promote clinician learning during the process of managing patients with CKD, promote clinician motivation to take steps toward evidence-based CKD management, and integrate dynamically with existing workflows. These mechanisms have the potential to result in improved population kidney disease outcomes and cardiovascular outcomes in supportive contexts (organizational buy-in, compatibility of interventions, geographical considerations). However, patient perspectives were unavailable and therefore did not contribute to our findings.

Conclusions: This systematic review and realist synthesis describes how complex interventions work to improve delivery of CKD care, providing a framework within which future interventions can be developed. Included studies provided insight into the functioning of these interventions, but patient perspectives were lacking in available literature.