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The American Journal of Managed Care June 2019
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US Care Pathways: Continued Focus on Oncology and Outstanding Challenges

Anita Chawla, PhD; Kimberly Westrich, MA; Angela Dai, BS, BA; Sarah Mantels, MA; and Robert W. Dubois, MD, PhD
The authors examined the latest trends in development, implementation, and evaluation of care pathways and the impact of the movement toward value-based care.

Objectives: To update an ongoing assessment of care pathway development, implementation, and evaluation, and to evaluate the emerging relationship between care pathways and other components of value-based care.

Study Design: Targeted literature review followed by an online survey and in-depth interviews.

Methods: The PubMed/Cochrane databases and gray literature were searched for publications on care pathways (January 1, 2014, to March 3, 2017); a supplemental targeted search was completed in October 2017. Qualitative data were collected via an online survey and semistructured, in-depth interviews with payers, providers, pathway vendors, and opinion leaders.

Results: A total of 112 articles or posters were identified in recently published research. The survey and interviews included 32 and 19 respondents, respectively. Care pathways are increasingly driven by providers and provider networks. Overall, we found increased awareness of and adherence to codified best practices or standards, and prioritization of high-quality evidence during development. Research findings suggest stronger links between outcomes-based measures and both physician reimbursement and care pathway evaluation. Integration with other value-based care initiatives, including alternative payment models, is also gradually emerging.

Conclusions: This study identified growing use of high standards of evidence and adoption of other best practices in the development, implementation, and evaluation of care pathways. As the influence of care pathways on patient care continues to expand, additional efforts are needed to increase transparency, disclose conflicts of interest, engage with patients, effectively align care pathways with improvements in patient outcomes, and integrate efficiently with other value-based care initiatives.

Am J Manag Care. 2019;25(6):280-287
Takeaway Points

As the use of care pathways has expanded in the United States, development, implementation, and evaluation processes have evolved.
  • Research findings support notable increases in process transparency, codification of standards, and prioritization of high-quality evidence.
  • Provider groups emerged as the driving force behind development and implementation, although physician resistance and administrative burden remain barriers to adoption.
  • Despite efforts, patient education and engagement remain inadequate.
  • There are indications of stronger links between outcomes-based measures, rather than traditional compliance measures, and both physician reimbursement and care pathway evaluation.
  • The movement toward value-based care may significantly affect the development and expansion of care pathways.
In the last decade, the use of care pathways—designed to provide evidence-based treatment options for disease management, improve quality of care, reduce unnecessary variation, and lower costs—has expanded rapidly in the United States.1-4 Although pathway use is increasingly prevalent for chronic diseases,5-7 use in oncology is well known, with 58% of oncology practices reporting use of pathways in 2016,8 42% higher than in 2014.9 Best practices to guide pathway development, implementation, and evaluation have been established in oncology, and the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) has issued a policy statement and a set of detailed criteria to ensure the integrity and quality of oncology pathways.10,11

At the same time, other value-based healthcare initiatives and alternative payment models (APMs) are being adopted. In 2016, approximately 31% and 28% of physicians across specialties participated in bundled payment programs and medical homes, respectively.8,12 Overall, 43% of physicians received some form of value-based reimbursement. With the goals of improving quality of care while reducing cost, care pathways not only have objectives similar to those of other value-based initiatives but also may be critical in the transition to value-based care.8,13-17

A January 2016 landscape assessment of care pathways revealed a wide range of development, implementation, and evaluation methods but a critical absence of transparency.18 In this follow-up study, we assessed changes in development, implementation, and evaluation of pathways and reviewed the latest evidence on integration of pathways with value-based care initiatives in the United States.


Similar to the 2016 study, a targeted review of published literature was followed by an online survey and in-depth interviews. Results were compared with those of the prior study, providing a perspective on the state of care pathways today and direction for the future.

Targeted Literature Review

Our search covered the PubMed and Cochrane Reviews databases and selected conferences’ websites. Publications, posters, and abstracts discussing care pathways in US healthcare settings that were in English and published between January 1, 2014, and March 3, 2017, were reviewed. We further searched trade journals and websites of professional organizations, pathway vendors, payers, and major provider groups. A supplemental search was completed in October 2017.

In screening materials identified in our search, we again required that a care pathway have stated objectives defining goals or key elements of care and was limited to specific disease states in defined patient populations, used evidence-based medicine or clinical guidelines to develop treatment recommendations, included a monitoring and evaluation mechanism, and included criteria for the use of pharmacologic therapies.

Primary Research

Subjects. Between June and September 2017, we conducted online surveys (n = 32) followed by in-depth interviews (n = 19). Respondents were selected to represent a mix of payers, providers from a range of specialties and practices, commercial care pathway vendors, and opinion leaders. Although all respondents were screened for involvement in pathway development, implementation, evaluation, or use, questions were administered only to those with experience and knowledge relevant to given sections (rated ≥3 on a 5-point scale). Respondents were offered honoraria for survey and interview participation.

Survey. The survey was structurally similar to the 2016 study, with new sections on value frameworks and APMs. Descriptive analyses were conducted in Microsoft Excel.

Interviews. Interviewers administered an hour-long, semistructured discussion guide with open-ended questions. Interviews were designed to supplement information from the survey with additional detail on key areas of interest.

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