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BMC Health Serv Res. 2007 Nov 7;7:179.

A cluster randomized controlled trial of a clinical pathway for hospital treatment of heart failure: study design and population.

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  • 1Department of Clinical and Experimental Medicine, University of Eastern Piedmont A, Avogadro, Novara, Italy.



The hospital treatment of heart failure frequently does not follow published guidelines, potentially contributing to the high morbidity, mortality and economic cost of this disorder. Consequently the development of clinical pathways has the potential to reduce the current variability in care, enhance guideline adherence, and improve outcomes for patients. Despite enthusiasm and diffusion, the widespread acceptance of clinical pathways remain questionable because very little prospective controlled data demonstrated their effectiveness. The Experimental Prospective Study on the Effectiveness and Efficiency of the Implementation of Clinical Pathways was designed in order to conduct a rigorous evaluation of clinical pathways in hospital treatment of acute heart failure. The primary objective of the trial was to evaluate the effectiveness of the implementation of clinical pathways for hospital treatment of heart failure in Italian hospitals.


Two-arm, cluster-randomized trial. 14 community hospitals were randomized either to arm 1 (clinical pathway: appropriate use of practice guidelines and supplies of drugs and ancillary services, new organization and procedures, patient education, etc.) or to arm 2 (no intervention, usual care). 424 patients sample (212 in each group), 80% of power at the 5% significance level (two-sided). The primary outcome measure is in-hospital mortality. We will also analyze the impact of the clinical pathways comparing the length and the appropriateness of the stay, the rate of unscheduled readmissions, the customers' satisfaction and the costs treating the patients with the pathways and with the current practice along all the observation period. The quality of the care will be assessed by monitoring the use of diagnostic and therapeutic procedures during hospital stay and by measuring key quality indicators at discharge.


This paper examines the design of the evaluation of a complex intervention. Since clinical pathways are made up of various interconnecting parts we have chosen the cluster-randomized controlled trial because is widely accepted as the most reliable method of determining effectiveness when measuring cost-effectiveness in real practice.


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