Planning Patient Care

Date First Published: September 14, 2014
Date Last Revised: July 28, 2020

INTRODUCTION

In any industry a certain degree of uniformity and standardization of practice is required in order to maximize productivity, efficiency and quality. For most industries, this is achieved through documented plans called “Standard Operating Procedures (SOP)”. Patient care has developed its own approaches and terminology. The time has come to relate patient care practices to that of other industries in order to take advantage of innovations in the latter.

A study of current literature reveals the existence of diverse terms used in conjunction with the planning of patient care. The term Standard Operating Procedures is seldom used. In many instances, new terms are coined for the sake of being different from an earlier term to claim originality and therefore commercial value. A return to basic definitions of terms used in various areas of knowledge especially management science would lead to less confusion.

THE ROLE OF PLANNING IN OVERALL CLINICAL CARE PROCESSES

Planning is an integral part of the clinical work process. However traditionally planning has been performed performed in an ad hoc rather than formalized manner. Currently, the need to regulate health services, streamline health care funding and ensure uniform quality of care, have resulted in wider acceptance of the use of standardized documented (ready-made) plans.

THE PLANNING METHOD

AD HOC PLANNING

Because of their training, healthcare professionals are capable of planning the care of a patient spontaneously. They rely on their knowledge and experience and when necessary refer to practice guidelines, manuals and protocols or even textbooks. Indeed, it is quite usual for clinicians, to think out a plan but not to document it. They express it only as orders or interventions.

There are many disadvantages of ad hoc planning (explained later). Yet, there are instances where preconceived plans are not available or inadequate and therefore the the skills of ad hoc planning need to be put to use.

The traditional way of writing a plan is as below:

Traditional ad-hoc Planning

SOAP Method

The plan is part of the SOAP(IE) popular method of documentation. ‘Plan’ lies between the Problem Identification step (termed as ‘Assessment’) and actual Intervention. The plan therefore is placed where it naturally fits in the sequence of the clinical care processes. An example is shown below:

SOAP Taken and modified from intranet.tdmu.edu.ua/datI

The plan is followed by the Implementation step and then re-evaluation.
Refer Nursing Documentation

The plan is rewritten as new information is available as the case develops.

Value of the SOAP Method

The SOAP method is a logical way of documenting the plan together with other clinical findings. Planning should not be dissociated from other clinical care processes. However, this method is considered inadequate for the reasons that the reference for the plan is not available and therefore the plan is essentially ad hoc and not conforming to a standardized prescribed plan. This weakness can be surmounted by providing care providers with pre-prepared reference care plans (as will be discussed later).

MORE STRUCTURED FORMALIZED PLANS

Current Attempts at Creating Care Plans/Care Pathways

For many years now some sectors of the healthcare service notably nursing has advocated more formalized methods of termed as Care Plans or Care Pathways. Some models are very detailed and incorporate nearly all care processes. Others are just outlines with minimal content leaving it to the care provider to expand the plan. Many of the approaches and methods are still valid and should be retained as the basis for further development.
An appraisal of the two basic models in current use is given below.

Model A

In this fairly popular model, the content includes:

  1. Results of assessment
  2. Problem identification ( diagnosis and effects)
  3. The rationale for the plan
  4. Proposed interventions
  5. The expected outcome
  6. Method of evaluation of actual oucome

The documentation of the results of assessment, interventions and  the actual outcome is deemed to be part of the plan

An example such a Care Plan is given below:

Care Plan for a Patient with Diarrhoea

The format of this model makes it useful as a reference and for educational purposes. However, it is not suitable for practical use. Often however, there is an attempt to document the care given in a similar (table) format. This is improper because the notes will not be in chronological order. The task of planning and the documentation goes together with other care processes. It should not be separated from them. To overcome this shortcoming, some hospitals advocate that notes are written both in the SOAP format and the table format. This results in redundant work for nurses.

Model B

More commonly used is a less complicated model where the nursing diagnosis and the corresponding planned interventions (tasks to be performed) are indicated as instructions. However, there is a failure to differentiate the plan (instructions) from the task execution and actual findings of observations, monitoring and evaluation. They are often written together with the plan in table format.
Again to overcome this shortcoming, notes are written both in the SOAP format and the table format. This leads to duplication of documentation efforts and confusion.

Taken from intranet.tdmu

Lessons Learned from Currently Advocated Plans

The plan in Model A is meant to be a reference. This is obvious from the inclusion of rationale, inference, interventions to be performed and what to evaluate in the content.
Model B exemplifies an attempt to document diagnosis, task performance plus their results/findings according to the format of a plan. As such it is a record not a plan. It is done in this way because care providers (especially their supervisors) want to see the plan and the corresponding record at one place within the medical/ nursing record. This requirement is also the reason why the plan is structured as a table or matrix. However, the choice of this layout leads to unwieldy Care Plans that are cumbersome and confusing to use because of the limitation in the amount of information that can be included in the many narrow columns. Again, despite the use of a matrix, it is also often mistakenly called Care Pathways.

The Need to Document Planning and Their Execution Separately

Planning and carrying out interventions are separate clinical care processes. Therefore, the plan should be documented separately from tasks performed and findings. Indeed they should be recorded in the medical record in a chronological order (as per legal requirement). If the wish is to present the plan and the actual interventions at the same  place, then care providers have to transcribe (duplicate) what they have written as notes in the medical record into a separate table. This duplication of effort is the main grouse cited against current care plans.

USE OF STANDARDIZED CARE PLANS

Until recently these care delivery plans are often developed by certain categories of healthcare providers notably nurses. There is now an increasing awareness for the plans to be interdisciplinary. Advocates in the United States emphasize this change in approach by calling the plans Interdisciplinary Client Plans, Critical Pathways, Interdisciplinary Outcome Pathways and many other terms. Somehow, there is a general lack of understanding regarding the meaning of the terms ‘Care Plans’ and ‘Care Pathways’ and the context within which they are to be applied in the delivery of health care. Indeed there is a lot of controversy, confusion and inconsistency regarding the use of care plans and clinical documentation within the nursing profession.

Understanding the Terms used in Planning Healthcare

Clinicians use the term ‘management of a patient or case’ to refer to the provision of the clinical service of a patient affected by an illness. The term ‘care’ is more appropriate for the clinical aspects of the service. Patient administration or patient management is widely used to refer to the administrative aspects. On the other hand, the term Case Management is used by certain health care practitioners to mean the entire care across episodes and inclusive of services not necessarily clinical in nature. Some of the terms used in planning is as below:

Plans: The general meaning is the arrangement in advance on how to carry out a certain activity. There are slight variations when applied to different endeavours. In architecture, it refers to a representation of the intended physical structure and layout. In management, planning is defined as the activity of selecting strategies, methods, policies, programs to achieve defined objectives. Planning refers to either one or both sequential activities i.e. Structural Plan (Design) and the Implementation Plan (Schedule, Process layout).

Algorithms: When used in mathematics, it is the step-by-step procedure for solving a mathematical problem in a limited number of steps. When used in other areas such as patient care, it is the series of sequential decision-making steps in managing a clinical problem based on some rationale. 

Pathways (Work Flow): Clinical pathway is another term for algorithms when it is used in patient-care activities. It is the predicted or planned series of sequential work processes in managing a clinical problem. As work progresses, a decision making step determines the subsequent alternative series of steps. Part of it deals with process layout e.g. whether simultaneous or sequential. This is equivalent to what is described as Work flow in other industries. Indeed Care Pathways are depicted schematically as work flow diagrams or charts together with a narrative. A Critical Pathway contains only the critical (important, required) steps or processes with the obvious (mundane) steps left out in the documentation (but not in practice). It is incorrect therefore, to call a pathway a plan. In practice the pathway is didactic but often contains alternatives chosen by the care provider.

Work Schedule: Schedules are sets of care packages usually depicted as tables/matrices containing tasks arranged, bundled together and sequenced according to the Care Pathways. The schedule provides direction to the clinical team on tasks to be performed according to scenarios, occasions, phases of care and events guided by professional, quality and safety requirements. Traditionally schedules are equated with Care Plans. Actually, a care Plan is more than just a matrix or table.

Practice Guidelines: These are written documents prepared by experts outlining broad recommendations for management of patients with a disease condition based on scientific evidence (research) available in the literature. They vary in detail and specificity, depending on the complexity of the disease and degree of variation in its presentation and in treatment possibilities. (Refer: Cochrane Collaboration)

Reference:
(http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/british/pathway?q=pathway) (http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/british/plan_1?q=plan) (http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/british/plan_2)

The Development of SOPs and Care Plans is discussed in detail in a separate article

ADVANTAGES OF USING MORE FORMALIZED PLANS

Objections to Use of Standardized Plans

In the past and to some extent even today, many health care providers question the need for uniformity and standardization for the following reasons:

  1. Each patient is very different from another and therefore the care of every patient is special (they claim that design should be on a patient to patient basis; standardization leads to “cook-book” medicine which is considered as dangerous)
  2. Clinicians need to make independent decisions in choosing management strategies and actions (according to them plans curtail clinical freedom)

Generally, despite these concerns, there is wider acceptance of the need for standardized plans among healthcare providers. In fact, over the years, they have developed many tools for planning patient care and many have been widely used. However, the structure and content of such plans have not been uniform.

Reference:
(http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/british/pathway?q=pathway) (http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/british/plan_1?q=plan) (http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/british/plan_2)

Learning from Other Industries

To help improve the understanding of the planning process, it is proposed here that effective and well-accepted modern approaches and techniques in operations and quality management as used in other industries be adopted in health care.

Much need to be learned from other industries. It is imperative that strategies, methods and mechanisms that have been proven effective in various industries be adopted, after careful consideration of their applicability. In manufacturing industries, operations management is concerned with the production of a specific product. The concept of a service product and clients/customers, already entrenched in banking, insurance, hospitality, tourism and sales, needs to be embraced by health care providers because it allows for the quality of a service to be defined by characteristics that are measurable and can be replicated . Indeed, there are more similarities than differences in the approach and in the terminology used. A comparison of the terms used is given below:

Differences in Term Used in Industry vs Clinical Patient Care

Care plans should be taken as the equivalent of the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) used in other industries and be used in the same way, The difference is that while industrial products ave rigid specifications and their method of production is always consistent. Health care outcome and their delivery are subjected to many variations which can be quite complex. The way to overcome this difficulty will be discussed.

Advantages of Standardization

For the care provider, the use of pre-designed (pre-prepared) SOP/Care Plans provides many advantages including:

  1. Facilitate a more structured care delivery
  2. Ensure comprehensive (complete) content of the service
  3. Encourage appropriate selection of investigations and treatment;  remove redundancy or duplication and wastage
  4. Provide information and decision support (through suggestions, prompts and reminders)
  5. Give a clear picture of future actions
  6. Communicates intentions to the whole care team (thus encouraging shared objectives and understanding)

Standardization promotes uniformity in the care of patients suffering from similar disease, syndrome or symptom complex, among all care  providers and at all facilities within the same organization. The reference SOP/Care Plan is a guide. Allowance for variations is written into the plans. Even so, it does not in any way discourage practitioners from altering practices in response to peculiar situations and requirements.

CHALLENGES IN DEVELOPING FORMALIZED PLANS

Just as in manufacturing industries, businesses providing services called what they deliver to customers as service products. This approach makes the the characteristics of the service more uniform and distinguishable.

Varied Nature of Clinical Patient Care as Service Products

In other industries the product of manufacturing or service delivery are very well defined and so also are the input and processes used. This is not so in healthcare. While care can be made uniform based on the patient’s disease, the needs of patient varies quite significantly depending on many factors. It would seem that there as many service products as there are diseases. These would have to be further broken further into more specific service products.

SOPs/Care Plans are designed for the delivery of a service product. Generally an SOP.Care Plan is designed for a particular disease with variations built in for different sub-types. However, separate SOP/Care Plan is required even for the same disease if the sub-type has distinct requirements warrant a different approach and content. It would seem that there as many service products and SOP?Care Plans as there are diseases. However very often, the content of various parts of the plans are similar and can be shared. This would obviate the need for repeated construction and writing.
The content of the service is has to be developed to cater for various variable factors:

  1. Diagnosis
    • Disease complexity (type, pathological grade)
    • Severity Level
    • Stage of the disease
    • Effects and complications
  2. Care Objectives
    • Curative therapy
    • Containment therapy (by 2O or 3O Prevention)
    • Palliative therapy
  3. Phases of Care
    • Changes in the certainty and comprehensiveness of the diagnosis
    • Progress of the disease along its natural history
    • Stage of the workflow
    • Other emerging issues

Diagnosis as the Main Determinant of the Content of a Service Product

During the course of patient care, the amount and clarity of information available to the care provider increases and the diagnosis  becomes clearer or new problems emerge. If these changes are significant, another more relevant plan is chosen. If the change is minor then the plan is revised accordingly.

This complexity in types of service products can be resolved by building a generic plans that contain the required parts and from there to suit the requirements posed by grade, severity, stage, presence of complications and other additional requirements. The approach must be to design standardized plans that are generic in nature i.e. applicable to typical patients with a typical disease condition. They are used initially as a reference and are then customized/individualized before being applied to the actual care of an individual patient. If the patient has more than one health problem, then combination of the generic plans would be necessary.

Service Products to Match Variations in Diagnosis

Care Objectives as a Determinant of the Content of a SOP/Care Plan

Care objectives vary according to the nature of the disease, the pathological grade, the level of severity and presence of effects. hence the therapeutic approach and the modalities of treatment chosen follows accordingly. Therapy can be broadly classified into:

  1. Curative therapy
  2. Containment therapy (by 2O or 3O Prevention)
  3. Palliative therapy

When there is potential for cure or complete resolution of the disease process, the plan is directed towards achieving it. However when there is no possibility for cure, the plan offers other beneficial therapeutic options aimed at restoring functions, symptom relief and providing comfort.

CONTENT OF PLANS FOR EACH PHASE OF CARE

 Planning must be done for all the steps in the clinical work process. These steps can be grouped into phases. For a given service product the first phase would be is to be gathered initial information must be sufficient for making a diagnosis. This is followed by the plan for further action which will be

  1. Further information gathering (investigations, observations, monitoring)
  2. Early treatment (if necessary)

As more information is available, the diagnosis becomes more distinct and the content of the service product changes with it. The care goes into the next phase. The content of the plan will include:

  1. Treatment
  2. Monitoring
  3. Evaluation

Plans must therefore be designed for various more specific service products. As care progresses, a decision making step determines the subsequent alternative series of steps. Part of it deals with process layout e.g. whether simultaneous or sequential. Care providers may then create their own task lists based on their role. In a computerized environment, these task lists are automatically generated but can still be amended to vary the urgency,  frequency, duration, location and assignment. The next step is to perform the tasks hence executing the plan.

MATCHING PLANS WITH VISITS AND SERVICE DELIVERY SETTINGS

The health care provider delivers care at encounters with the patient, usually during a visit i.e. when the patient comes to the health care facility (or are visited by health care provider). The type of visit and the service setting deemed suitable depends on the nature of the illness. For example a patient on an outpatient follow-up may have to be admitted for in-patient care if certain complications occur. For practical reasons and convenience, service managers schedule visits to coincide with the anticipated change-over from one phase to the next. As such, tasks to be performed and other events that the patient will experience or likely to happen is known to the care providers looking after the patient and the patient alike. The arrival for a visit may trigger a plan. However, the decision to execute the plan is made only if the patient’s status allows for or warrants the change-over. 

The care plans for the First visit is quite different from that for the Follow-up visit because at the very first visit the diagnosis is usually uncertain, while at subsequent visits, the diagnosis is more definite. Also, at later visits some part of the care process has been completed; plans need to be made only for the remainder.

 Service delivery may be provided in various settings including:

  1. Outpatient visit
  2. Emergency visit
  3. Inpatient visit
  4. Day Care visit
  5. Home Care visit
  6. Teleconsultation visit
  7. Self-care

The most appropriate setting for a particular phase of care can can also be decided in advance. Decisions to start, continue or abandon plans are dependent on the data available. In inpatient care, the data available are results of clinical reassessment,  monitoring data and routine investigations. For outpatient care, these data can be made available by asking patients to come for a preliminary visit when investigations and other assessment are performed. As part of sel-care, patients may also submit records of symptom characteristics and measurements they make themselves (B.P., Temperature, Blood sugar level etc.).

However, there are situations where the transition in the plan is predictable such that a change-over of the plan can be initiated as and when the visit takes place. A good example is the care plan for the care of a patient with normal pregnancy  or a patient  undergoing Knee Replacement surgery.

The difference in settings do not significantly change the clinical content of the Care Plans but impinges mainly on administrative processes, workflow and use of resources.

PLANNING THE FREQUENCY AND DURATION OF VISITS

The extent of each phase, is a variable period. It can span a duration of mere minutes or can stretch across encounters and visits. Case managers or the primary provider set the frequency of encounters and visits based on the patient’s expected response. The number of visits per episode is by nature variable but may be intentionally fixed in a service package. A visit requires one or more identified physical resources such as room/bed within a clinic complex or ward. During the visit, the patient may have one or more encounters with different care providers using the same or different resource. The duration of each encounter is defined as time slots. All these need to be planned. In a computerized HIS, this planning is done using the scheduling and resource allocation application.

 EXECUTION OF PLANS

Application of the Plan

The care of a patient is led by a care provider termed as the ‘primary provider’ or ‘provider in charge”. Usually, he/she is a doctor but it can be any practitioner depending on the scope and complexity of care of the patient. The primary provider chooses a care plan that matches the diagnosis made.

Execution of the Plans

The care set for a particular patient will consist of all or some of patient care processes. It may also include clinical administration tasks. For inpatients, these can be admission, referrals, transfer and discharge. For outpatients, these can be visit registration, follow up appointment, referral and discontinuation of visits.

The use of Care Plans in a fully integrated Hospital Information System is discussed in another article.

ORDER SETS (Care Package, Care-Set, Care-Bundle)

Incorporation of Care Plan in CIS is discyssed in another article“>Incorporation of Care Plan in CIS is discussed in another article

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