From the Director
Research Activities, August 2011, No. 372
Medicine today relies on clinical tools like software applications and checklists that have become as essential as the stethoscope for patient care. Instead of reaching into their black bag, today's clinicians reach for their mobile phone or laptop for the latest tools to provide quality care for their patients. These tools are teamwork and communication strategies that enhance surgical care in the operating room, conversational techniques to ensure that patients understand what clinicians are telling them, checklists that prevent potentially deadly infections in the intensive care unit, and software applications that let clinicians identify preventive screening tests a patient needs. These tools also include specific protocols to triage patients in the emergency department so they can see a doctor quickly or discharge them from the hospital so that they won't end up back in the hospital.
Busy clinicians have little time to research the latest studies on the best diagnostic tests or treatments for their patients. The clinical tools that AHRQ supports can do much of that work for clinicians by incorporating the latest medical evidence into tools that are not prescriptive, but rather can guide care like a GPS. Some tools are based on comparative effectiveness research (CER) studies that directly compare the benefits and side effects of specific medications or treatments for a specific condition like diabetes. This information helps clinicians tailor recommendations to patients' needs and preferences. In Marcella's case, described in our cover story, her doctor could use a CER clinical guide to review specific medications for type 2 diabetes. He could discuss with Marcella whether she was concerned about the weight gain from certain medications or if it was important for her to take her medicine only twice a day instead of four times a day, so they could select the best medication for her.
Marcella is typical of many complex patients seen in doctors' offices, emergency departments, hospitals, and other health care facilities today. These patients often have multiple medical conditions, take several medications, and struggle with health literacy problems. Clinical tools can help clinicians better treat and communicate with these and other patients to avoid future problems and improve their health.
Studies have shown that many of these clinical tools improve care and save lives. AHRQ is committed to providing health care professionals with the tools they need to implement the latest medical evidence at the hospital bed, physician's office, or other site of care as quickly as possible. Our patients deserve no less.
Carolyn M. Clancy, M.D.