Inconsistent care practices adversely affect outcomes, patient safety, performance measures and cost. Care teams rely on advanced clinical practices to reduce care variability and ensure they’re providing clinically effective care.
Clinical healthcare variation has been a topic of discussion and analysis since the early 1970s, when studies started highlighting geographic differences in cost and outcomes. Despite the widespread acknowledgement of care variations, current studies still report these inconsistencies, with costs estimated at between 14-16% of total healthcare spend in the United States. What has changed in the intervening 40 years? We now have the know-how, technology, and the sense of urgency to reduce variability and work toward standardization of care.
So, if the evidence of waste is proven, and we have the knowledge to address it, why haven’t we made further strides to achieve clinical effectiveness?
Clinical variations in focus
In the years since that first report, clinical research has identified both the causes and costs of care variations, along with potential health solutions that can improve quality and eliminate clinical waste. A pivotal piece of research, Eliminating Waste in US Health Care, by Donald M. Berwick, MD, MPP and Andrew D. Hackbarth, MPhil, revealed that waste in clinical care occurs when: (1) patients fall through the cracks in a fragmented system; (2) they are subjected to care that, according to evidence and the patients' own preferences, cannot help them; and (3) the clinical choices that patients and providers sometimes make aren't justified by available knowledge and experience.
In fact, unproven treatments amount to trillions of dollars globally, stretching health systems already strained beyond their limits. Although it’s been widely accepted that evidence-based care is crucial, it’s equally important that healthcare organizations make required changes systemically – that is, across care teams and care settings – in order to change deeply-rooted behaviors. Not only among the clinical staff, but among patients themselves who have a role to play in understanding their care choices.