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Operational research is a collection of modelling techniques used to structure, analyse, and solve problems related to the design and operation of complex human systems. While many argue that operational research should play a key role in improving healthcare services, staff may be largely unaware of its potential applications. This Element explores operational research's wartime origins and introduce several approaches that operational researchers use to help healthcare organisations: address well-defined decision problems; account for multiple stakeholder perspectives; and describe how system performance may be impacted by changing the configuration or operation of services. The authors draw on examples that illustrate the valuable perspective that operational research brings to improvement initiatives and the challenges of implementing and scaling operational research solutions. They discuss how operational researchers are working to surmount these problems and suggest further research to help operational researchers have greater beneficial impact in healthcare improvement. This title is also available as Open Access on Cambridge Core.
Short-term survival after paediatric cardiac surgery has improved significantly over the past 20 years and increasing attention is being given to measuring and reducing incidence of morbidities following surgery. How to best use routinely collected data to share morbidity information constitutes a challenge for clinical teams interested in analysing their outcomes for quality improvement. We aimed to develop a tool facilitating this process in the context of monitoring morbidities following paediatric cardiac surgery, as part of a prospective multi-centre research study in the United Kingdom.
We developed a prototype software tool to analyse and present data about morbidities associated with cardiac surgery in children. We used an iterative process, involving engagement with potential users, tool design and implementation, and feedback collection. Graphical data displays were based on the use of icons and graphs designed in collaboration with clinicians.
Our tool enables automatic creation of graphical summaries, displayed as a Microsoft PowerPoint presentation, from a spreadsheet containing patient-level data about specified cardiac surgery morbidities. Data summaries include numbers/percentages of cases with morbidities reported, co-occurrences of different morbidities, and time series of each complication over a time window.
Our work was characterised by a very high level of interaction with potential users of the tool, enabling us to promptly account for feedback and suggestions from clinicians and data managers. The United Kingdom centres involved in the project received the tool positively, and several expressed their interest in using it as part of their routine practice.
Morbidity is defined as a state of being unhealthy or of experiencing an aspect of health that is “generally bad for you”, and postoperative morbidity linked to paediatric cardiac surgery encompasses a range of conditions that may impact the patient and are potential targets for quality assurance.
As part of a wider study, a multi-disciplinary group of professionals aimed to define a list of morbidities linked to paediatric cardiac surgery that was prioritised by a panel reflecting the views of both professionals from a range of disciplines and settings as well as parents and patients.
We present a set of definitions of morbidity for use in routine audit after paediatric cardiac surgery. These morbidities are ranked in priority order as acute neurological event, unplanned re-operation, feeding problems, the need for renal support, major adverse cardiac events or never events, extracorporeal life support, necrotising enterocolitis, surgical site of blood stream infection, and prolonged pleural effusion or chylothorax. It is recognised that more than one such morbidity may arise in the same patient and these are referred to as multiple morbidities, except in the case of extracorporeal life support, which is a stand-alone constellation of morbidity.
It is feasible to define a range of paediatric cardiac surgical morbidities for use in routine audit that reflects the priorities of both professionals and parents. The impact of these morbidities on the patient and family will be explored prospectively as part of a wider ongoing, multi-centre study.
To categorise records according to primary cardiac diagnosis in the United Kingdom Central Cardiac Audit Database in order to add this information to a risk adjustment model for paediatric cardiac surgery.
Codes from the International Paediatric Congenital Cardiac Code were mapped to recognisable primary cardiac diagnosis groupings, allocated using a hierarchy and less refined diagnosis groups, based on the number of functional ventricles and presence of aortic obstruction.
A National Clinical Audit Database.
Children undergoing cardiac interventions: the proportions for each diagnosis scheme are presented for 13,551 first patient surgical episodes since 2004.
In Scheme 1, the most prevalent diagnoses nationally were ventricular septal defect (13%), patent ductus arteriosus (10.4%), and tetralogy of Fallot (9.5%). In Scheme 2, the prevalence of a biventricular heart without aortic obstruction was 64.2% and with aortic obstruction was 14.1%; the prevalence of a functionally univentricular heart without aortic obstruction was 4.3% and with aortic obstruction was 4.7%; the prevalence of unknown (ambiguous) number of ventricles was 8.4%; and the prevalence of acquired heart disease only was 2.2%. Diagnostic groups added to procedural information: of the 17% of all operations classed as “not a specific procedure”, 97.1% had a diagnosis identified in Scheme 1 and 97.2% in Scheme 2.
Diagnostic information adds to surgical procedural data when the complexity of case mix is analysed in a national database. These diagnostic categorisation schemes may be used for future investigation of the frequency of conditions and evaluation of long-term outcome over a series of procedures.
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