Professions allied to medicine, such as nurses, midwives and dietiticians, can effectively incorporate clinical guidelines to improve patient care

The issuing of clinical guidelines to nurses, midwives, dieticians and other health-care professionals allied to medicine may reduce variations in practice and improve patient care. This review found that, despite limited research, there is some evidence that guidelines can improve care and that professional roles can be substituted effectively, for instance a nurse can perform the function of a physician in certain circumstances. Such interventions offer the possibility of reduced costs but further research is needed in all areas of this topic.

Authors' conclusions: 

There is some evidence that guideline-driven care is effective in changing the process and outcome of care provided by professions allied to medicine. However, caution is needed in generalising findings to other professions and settings.

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Background: 

Clinical practice guidelines aim to reduce inappropriate variations in practice and to promote the delivery of evidence-based health care.

Objectives: 

To identify and assess the effects of studies of the introduction of clinical practice guidelines in nursing (including health visiting), midwifery and other professions allied to medicine.

Search strategy: 

We searched the Cochrane Effective Practice and Organisation of Care Group specialised register, MEDLINE (1975 to 1996), EMBASE, Cinahl and Sigle to 1996, the NHS Economic Evaluations Database (1994 to 1996), DHSS-Data (1983 to 1996), the Database of Abstracts of Reviews of Effectiveness (1994 to 1996) and reference lists of articles. We also hand searched the journal Quality in Health Care, made personal contact with content experts and contacted libraries identified by an expert panel.

Selection criteria: 

Randomised trials, controlled before-and-after studies and interrupted time series analyses of the introduction of interventions comparing 1. Clinical guidelines plus dissemination and/or implementation strategies versus no guidelines; 2. Guidelines plus dissemination and/or implementation strategies versus guidelines plus alternative dissemination and/or implementation strategies; and 3. (post hoc) Guidelines used by professions allied to medicine versus standard physician care. The participants were nurses, midwives and other professions allied to medicine.

Data collection and analysis: 

Two reviewers independently extracted data and assessed study quality.

Main results: 

Eighteen studies were included involving more than 467 health care professionals. The reporting of study methods was inadequate for all studies. In all but one study, nurses were the targeted professional group; one study was aimed solely at dieticians. The various behaviours targeted included the management of hypertension, low back pain and hyperlipidaemia. Nine studies were identified for comparison 1. Three out of five studies observed improvements in at least some processes of care and six out of eight studies observed improvements in outcomes of care. Only one study included a formal economic evaluation, with equivocal findings. Three studies were identified for comparison 2 but it was difficult to draw firm conclusions because of poor methods. Six studies were identified for comparison 3 (post hoc). These studies generally supported the hypothesis that there was no difference between care given by nurses using clinical guidelines and standard physician care.

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