It is easy, perhaps even fun (in a cynical way), to discredit clinical guidelines and suggested care pathways for certain orthopaedic diseases. They are often nuanced, may require a significant change to our practice that we find impractical, and may seem to offer little benefit over current practices. Why change when our patients do just fine with how we have always treated them? Well, as Farrow et al. clearly demonstrate in the May 2, 2018 edition of JBJS, we should follow these guidelines and patient care pathways in hip fracture patients ≥50 years old because patients have better outcomes when we do.
The authors found that increased adherence to the Scottish Standards of Care for Hip Fracture Patients (SSCHFP), implemented in Scotland in 2014, led to a >3-fold decrease in patient mortality at 1 month and a 2-fold decrease in mortality at 4 months. High levels of adherence to the SSCHFP also led to shorter hospital stays and decreased odds of discharging patients to high-care settings, such as a skilled nursing facility. This cohort study of data collected from >1,000 patients saw only 8% of the initial population lost to follow-up.
Just as importantly, when the authors ran a multiple regression analysis, they found that no single SSCHFP practice or patient variable was as important as following the total SSCHFP protocol. The authors thus conclude that “the impact of the standards as a whole is greater than the sum of the parts and highlights the importance of a multidisciplinary team approach…” In other words, following the protocol helped improve patient outcomes. Period.
Studies like this by Farrow et al. are important and impactful. Practice guidelines and care criteria are developed with careful attention to the evidence base, but we are just starting to see published data on their effect on outcomes. This makes them difficult to accept because we DO have data (at least anecdotal data) supporting our current practices. It is easier to stick to our known current methods than to adopt new ones, however subtle, that require change and have little accompanying outcomes data. Implementing practice guidelines will always be challenging, but having data such as these showing the power of their effect should help make adoption easier.
Chad A. Krueger, MD
JBJS Deputy Editor for Social Media
Click here to read a press release about this study from the University of Aberdeen.