Background: The Alberta Hip and Knee Replacement Project developed a new evidence-based clinical pathway (NCP) for total hip (THR) and knee (TKR) replacement. The aim was to facilitate the delivery of services in a timely and cost-effective manner while achieving the highest quality of care for the patient across the full continuum of care from patient referral to an orthopedic surgeon through surgery, recovery, and rehabilitation. The purpose of this article is to provide an overview of the study design, rationale, and execution of this project as a model for health technology assessment based on comparative effectiveness of alternative clinical pathways.
Methods: A pragmatic randomized controlled trial study design was used to evaluate the NCP compared with the standard of care (SOC) for these procedures. The pragmatic study design was selected as a rigorous approach to produce high quality evidence suitable for informing decisions between relevant interventions in real clinical practice. The NCP was evaluated in three of the nine regional health authorities (RHAs) in Alberta with dedicated central intake clinics offering multidisciplinary care teams, constituting 80 percent of THR and TKR surgeries performed annually in Alberta. Patients were identified in the offices of twenty orthopedic surgeons who routinely performed THR or TKR surgeries. Evaluation outcome measures were based on the six dimensions of the Alberta Quality Matrix for Health (AQMH): acceptability, accessibility, appropriateness, effectiveness, efficiency and safety. Data were collected prospectively through patient self-completed questionnaires at baseline and 3 and 12 months after surgery, ambulatory and inpatient chart reviews, and electronic administrative data.
Results: The trial design was successful in establishing similar groups for rigorous evaluation. Of the 4,985 patients invited to participate, 69 percent of patients consented. A total of 3,434 patients were randomized: 1,712 to SOC and 1,722 to the NCP. The baseline characteristics of patients in the two study arms, including demographics, comorbidity as measured by CDS and exposure to pain medications, and health-related quality of life, as measured by Western Ontario and McMaster Universities Osteoarthritis Index and Short Form-36, were similar.
Conclusions: The Alberta Hip and Knee Replacement Project demonstrates the feasibility and advantages of applying a pragmatic randomized controlled trial to ascertain comparative effectiveness. This is a model for health technology assessment that incorporates how clinical pathways can be effectively evaluated.