An integrated care pathway (ICP) is a multidisciplinary outline of anticipated care, placed in an appropriate timeframe, to help a patient with a specific condition or set of symptoms move progressively through a clinical experience to positive outcomes.
Variations from the pathway may occur as clinical freedom is exercised to meet the needs of the individual patient.
ICPs are important because they help to reduce unnecessary variations in patient care and outcomes. They support the development of care partnerships and empower patients and their carers. ICPs can also be used as a tool to incorporate local and national guidelines into everyday practice, manage clinical risk and meet the requirements of clinical governance.
When designing and introducing ICPs, it is important to incorporate them into organisational strategy and choose appropriate topics which will provide opportunities for improvement.
Integrated care pathways (i.e. the Liverpool Care Pathway for the Dying Patient) are recommended as an educational and quality assurance instrument to improve care of dying patients in settings that are not
specialised in palliative care.
In some non-specialist services (i.e. radiology, radiotherapy or surgery), limited resources may lead to the implementation of waiting lists. These waiting lists are particularly disadvantageous for palliative care patients because of the limited remaining life-span in which they could benefit from the service.
Therefore, fast-tracking pathways have been suggested to give priority access to palliative care patients. Considering the reduced life expectancy of palliative care patients, fast-tracking care pathways should be implemented in medical services, ensuring adequate priority for these patients, to prevent disproportional burden from lost time.
Radbruch L, Payne S and the Board of Directors of the EAPC. EAPC update. White Paper on standards and norms for hospice and palliative care in Europe: part 2. European Journal of Palliative Care, 2009; 16(6)