The Whipple procedure is a complicated and difficult surgical procedure. It is also called a pancreaticoduodenectomy, and it generally encompasses the removal of the gallbladder, common bile duct, part of the duodenum, and the head of the pancreas.This operation was first described by Dr. Alan O. Whipple of New York Memorial Hospital (now Memorial Sloan-Kettering).
The surgeons at BIDMC have developed a "clinical pathway" to guide themselves, related physician specialists, nurses, case managers and other involved in performing Whipples and taking care of patients before, during, and after this surgery. The clinical pathway is intended to assist physicians in clinical decision making by describing a range of generally acceptable interventions and outcomes. In other fields, it might be called a "decision tree." The guidelines attempt to define practices that meet the needs of most patients under most circumstances. While the physician must remain alert to deviations from the expected, the use of the clinical pathway can bring greater predictability to the entire treatment process in many cases.
The introduction of the clinical pathway for Whipple procedures at BIDMC has had very positive results. Here is a summary of the data pre- and post-clinical pathway.
Pre-clinical pathway period: October 2001-January 2004 -- 64 patients (42% male)
Post-clinical pathway period: February 2002-October 2006 -- 121 patients (53% male)
Age distribution: Mean for both periods = 64 (comparable range of ages)
ASA class of patients (degree of disease/difficulty)
Pre-clinical pathway: I (1.6%); II (51.6%); III (46.8%); IV (0%)
Post-clinical pathway: I(0.8%); II (39.7%); III (54.5%); IV (5.0%)
Pre-clinical pathway mortality = 1 death (1.6%)
Post-clinical pathway mortality = 2 deaths (1.7%)
Pre-clinical pathway ICU admissions = 8 patients (12.5%)
Post-clinical pathway ICU admissions = 16 patients (13.2%)
Pre-clinical pathway of stay/cost = 10.8 days/$23,536
Post-clinical pathway length of stay/cost = 9.8 days/$19,999
Pre-clinical pathway readmission/reoperation = 4 (6.3%)/4 (6.3%)
Post-clinical pathway readmission/reoperation = 10 (8.3%)/7 (5.8%)
(Both readmission and reoperation are measured within 30 days.)
To put all this into English, after the introduction of the clinical pathway, nothwithstanding a greater percentage of sicker patients, cost and length of stay decreased without negatively affecting mortality, readmission, or reoperation rates.
Patients and families also like the new pathway because they receive a roadmap of what to expect and when to expect it, and they can literally follow their own progress by looking at a chart on the wall of their room.
I don't mean to suggest that we are the only place to have clinical pathways, but they remain less prevalent than you might think. This is but one example to show how effective they can be when well designed and implemented by the entire medical team.