What is a Care Pathway? 5 Examples & Management Solutions

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In literature, a care pathway is defined as “a complex intervention for the mutual decision-making and organization of care processes for a well-defined group of patients during a well-defined period.”[1]

Basically, a care pathway is a plan for patient care that is comprehensive and integrated, meaning it covers patient care from beginning to end.

A good care pathway includes:

  • An explicit statement of the goals and key elements of care
  • Facilitation of communication among team members and with patients and their families
  • Coordination of roles and sequencing of activities of the multidisciplinary care team, the patients, and their families
  • Documentation, monitoring, and evaluation of outcomes
  • Identification of appropriate resources[2]

You could say that care pathways define what happens, when it happens, and who does what in terms of diagnosis, treatment, and follow-up for health care.

So we know what a care pathway is, but why does it matter?

Purpose of The Care Pathway Approach

According to Richard Rosique, a senior consultant for hospitals and medical groups, a care pathway is “one of the best tools hospitals can use to manage the quality in healthcare…”[3]

When hospitals see large numbers of patients who have similar symptoms and issues, who need specific types of care or interventions, it makes good sense to “bundle” their care into pathways. This way, healthcare providers can use the predictability of this process to their advantage, defining and optimizing treatment plans, ensuring patients get the most effective, most efficient care.

This is easy to understand for hospitals, but what about care pathways in mental healthcare? Do they still apply?

What is a Care Pathway in Mental Healthcare?

Care pathways in mental healthcare are a little different. Instead of coordinating care in a hospital setting and coordinating disparate specialties into one big team, the focus is, of course, more on mental health care.

However, that’s not to say that the team isn’t multidisciplinary; a good team will include administrators, care navigators, and physicians or other health care professionals in addition to mental health care providers, like therapists, counselors, and psychologists.

Like care pathways used in hospitals, it is used to inform care providers, patients, and their families of what to expect along the treatment journey—it just focuses on mental health diagnosis, treatment, and follow-up. For example, care pathways in mental health are modeled around things like depression, anxiety, and substance abuse rather than rheumatoid arthritis, appendicitis, or diabetes.

It defines what patients are being seen for (e.g., symptoms of depression), what assessment or diagnosis tools should be used (e.g., the Patient Health Questionnaire), who administers or participates in which steps (e.g., nurse, intake counselor, psychiatrist), and what referrals, treatment plans, or next steps are appropriate in which situations (e.g., crisis center for suicidal thoughts, a therapist for mild-to-moderate depression, a psychiatrist if medication may be helpful).

2 Examples of Integrated Care Pathways

Care pathways are easier to understand when they’re made visual, so let’s look at some examples.

This example comes from Dr. Jeff Capobianco’s presentation on care pathways in mental health.[4] It outlines the care pathway for patients struggling with depression. It describes who is participating in each step (e.g., case manager, patient, nurse, primary care provider), what actions are taken and what assessments are made (e.g., depression diagnosis, assessment of whether the patient is suicidal or not), and what sort of treatment is indicated (e.g., physical, lab work, behavioral health referral).

At the bottom, you’ll notice that the pathway is not just about what occurs and who makes it happen; it’s also important to monitor the pathway, note the resources expended, and measure progress.

Depression Care Pathway example in flowchart format

Another great example comes from Dr. Hoffman and Dr. Pezor’s presentation on integrated care pathways for the Anne Arundel Medical Center.[5]

As you can see, this example is more detailed and includes more specific instructions for contingencies like whether the patient has a primary care provider or not, or if the provider is unsure about whether the patient is suicidal or not. It also specifies which numbers should be provided for different paths.

Care Pathway Management Tool

What Is the Best Care Pathway Management Tool?

There are several tools and solutions that can plot care pathways, from the very basic spreadsheets and flowcharts to the tools designed to create care pathways. The right tool for you will depend on what features you need and the budget you’re working with, but your options include:

  • Using a spreadsheet tool (e.g., Excel or Google Spreadsheets) to create flow charts
  • Software/tools intended for diagraming and creating flowcharts (e.g., LucidChart, Microsoft Visio)
  • Software/tools intended for creating care pathways (e.g., Quenza)

Spreadsheet tools are generally the cheapest options, as most computers and mobile devices come equipped with a spreadsheet tool like Microsoft Excel, and Google spreadsheets is an easy to use free option. However, they require some finesse to use for this purpose. It takes time, effort, and skill to create diagrams and flow charts using basic spreadsheet tools.

The software and tools that are intended for diagraming and creating flow charts are a more targeted option, offering more features and a more user-friendly interface to create the complex visual representations that you need for creating care pathways. But they are typically better for people documenting standardized procedures, and you may have trouble incorporating all the elements you need to visualize an effective care pathway. They are also generally not free, although most are fairly low-cost.

The best option is going to be something designed with creating care pathways in mind, like Quenza.

Crafting Care Pathways with Quenza’s Templates

Quenza Client Management App Pathway Example
Create patient-centered care pathways that improve efficiency and ensure your client journeys flow smoothly with Pathway Building tools.

Quenza was made for creating straightforward, unique, and customizable care pathways for you and your clients. With Quenza’s easy-to-use drag-and-drop tool, you can put together a pathway with assessments, questions, exercises, and resources that are research-backed and evidence-based.

For example, a mental health care provider may want to put together a care pathway for clients that are struggling with depression. This care pathway might include the initial assessment, some information and resources on treating depression, activities and techniques the client can use on their own, and follow-up assessments.

With Quenza’s templates, you can create pathways that provide the right tools at the right time. Resources can be shared with clients on an as-needed basis or on your own customized timeline.

Not only will Quenza’s care pathways help you stay organized and keep clients on the right track, they will also serve to keep your clients engaged in their own treatment plan, which increases the odds of success.

Final Thoughts

If your work regularly includes clients that are on the same general care “path,” you’ll want a tool that can help you create and use customized care pathways. You have several options, but your best bet is a tool that’s made for this purpose, like Quenza.

Check out all that Quenza can do and see if it’s the right platform for your practice.


About the author

Courtney is currently working as a healthcare workforce researcher for the state of California and is a regular contributor to the Quenza blog. She has a passion for taking research findings and translating them into concise, actionable packages of information that anyone can understand and implement.

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