The synergy of pathways and algorithms: two tools work better than one

Jt Comm J Qual Improv. 1994 Sep;20(9):485-99. doi: 10.1016/s1070-3241(16)30095-5.


Background: Clinical quality improvement efforts at the Medical Center Hospital of Vermont (MCHV) led to the development of critical pathways, which show the ideal plan of care, and algorithms, which help clinicians make one of many complicated decisions within a plan of care. A synergy appears to develop when pathways and algorithms are used together.

Development of pathways and algorithms: A steering committee supports and oversees pathway and algorithm efforts. A quarterly tracking report updating progress for all pathways and algorithms is circulated to all nurse managers, medical staff, and administrators. When combining pathways and algorithms, the pathway is created first. Algorithms are developed for trouble spots within a pathway.

Coronary artery bypass graft (cabg) patients: Having developed the pathway for CABG patients, the CABG case management team meets monthly to review outcomes and variances. For example, an algorithm for managing atrial arrhythmias--the chief cause of variance for one month's results--was developed. The combination of pathways and algorithms for CABG patients has resulted in a reduction of 2.5 days for total length of stay (including 1 day on the surgical intensive care unit [SICU]), for a mean cost savings of $3,500. Re-admission to the SICU, reintubation, and mortality rates have all decreased.

Conclusion: The idea of reaping the benefits of both pathways and algorithms is becoming more popular at MCHV, where teams use algorithms to improve on complicated processes underlying the pathways.

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms*
  • Coronary Artery Bypass / economics
  • Cost Control / trends
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis / trends
  • Decision Trees*
  • Health Care Costs / trends*
  • Health Resources / economics*
  • Humans
  • Outcome and Process Assessment, Health Care / economics
  • Patient Care Planning / economics
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic*
  • Quality Assurance, Health Care / economics*