Multisite, quality-improvement collaboration to optimise cardiac care in Queensland public hospitals

Ian A Scott, Irene C Darwin, Kathy H Harvey, Andy B Duke, Hazel Harden, Nicholas D Buckmaster, John Atherton and Michael Ward, for the CHI Cardiac Collaborative*
Med J Aust 2004; 180 (8): 392-397. || doi: 10.5694/j.1326-5377.2004.tb05992.x
Published online: 19 April 2004


Objective: To evaluate changes in quality of in-hospital care of patients with either acute coronary syndromes (ACS) or congestive heart failure (CHF) admitted to hospitals participating in a multisite quality improvement collaboration.

Design: Before-and-after study of changes in quality indicators measured on representative patient samples between June 2001 and January 2003.

Setting: Nine public hospitals in Queensland.

Study populations: Consecutive or randomly selected patients admitted to study hospitals during the baseline period (June 2001 to January 2002; n = 807 for ACS, n = 357 for CHF) and post-intervention period (July 2002 to January 2003; n = 717  for ACS, n = 220 for CHF).

Intervention: Provision of comparative baseline feedback at a facilitative workshop combined with hospital-specific quality-improvement interventions supported by on-site quality officers and a central program management group.

Main outcome measure: Changes in process-of-care indicators between baseline and post-intervention periods.

Results: Compared with baseline, more patients with ACS in the post-intervention period received therapeutic heparin regimens (84% v 72%; P < 0.001), angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors (64% v 56%; P = 0.02), lipid-lowering agents (72% v 62%; P < 0.001), early use of coronary angiography (52% v 39%; P < 0.001), in-hospital cardiac counselling (65% v 43%; P < 0.001), and referral to cardiac rehabilitation (15% v 5%; P < 0.001). The numbers of patients with CHF receiving β-blockers also increased (52% v 34%; P < 0.001), with fewer patients receiving deleterious agents (13% v 23%; P = 0.04). Same-cause 30-day readmission rate decreased from 7.2% to 2.4% (P = 0.02) in patients with CHF.

Conclusion: Quality-improvement interventions conducted as multisite collaborations may improve in-hospital care of acute cardiac conditions within relatively short time frames.

Evidence–practice gaps in the care of patients hospitalised with acute coronary syndromes (ACS) and congestive heart failure (CHF) have been identified in Australia1,2 and overseas.3 In the United States,4-8 Canada9 and the United Kingdom,10 multihospital quality-improvement programs involving professional experts, hospital clinicians and government agencies have led to significant improvements in one or more processes of care.

We describe the methods and results of a collaboration of Queensland public hospitals involved in optimising care of patients hospitalised with either ACS or CHF.

Collaborative development

In mid-2000, Queensland Health established the Collaborative for Healthcare Improvement (CHI) under its Quality Improvement and Enhancement Program to promote improvement of care of specific patient populations within Queensland public hospitals.11 Under the CHI banner, a Cardiac Collaborative (CHI-CC) was formed which recruited hospitals to target patients admitted with either ACS or CHF.

The collaborative adopted and extended the use of clinical indicators and quality-improvement interventions which had undergone trials in three Brisbane teaching hospitals as part of the federally funded Brisbane Cardiac Consortium Clinical Support Systems Program (CSSP), under the auspices of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians.12

Study patients

The target population comprised patients discharged with a clinical diagnosis of ACS or CHF. Quality indicators were measured in a subset of consecutive or randomly selected patients who

Based on anticipated lowest rates of admission across all hospitals, each hospital was required to sample a minimum of 50 patients with ACS and 25 with CHF during each measurement period. To avoid oversampling from large tertiary hospitals, sample sizes were limited to 150 patients with ACS and 50 with CHF.

Quality indicators

Quality indicators were based on those developed by the CSSP.1,2 Briefly, process-of-care indicators were the proportions of all patients, or of highly eligible patients (definite indication and no contraindication), who received specific clinical interventions. Detailed patient eligibility criteria are described elsewhere.1,2,14 These indicators were derived from evidence-based guidelines released in 2000 and 2001, 15,16 and modified by consensus of an expert panel of cardiologists and general physicians. Outcome indicators were in-hospital mortality rate, mean length of hospital stay, and same-diagnosis readmission rate within 30 days of discharge.

Quality-improvement interventions
Patient characteristics

A total of 1524 patients with ACS (baseline, 807; post-intervention, 717) and 577 patients with CHF (baseline, 357; post-intervention, 220) were studied. Patient characteristics for each condition (Box 2) showed no significant differences between periods, except that in the post-intervention period more patients with ACS were recorded as having hyperlipidaemia (43% v 34%; P < 0.001) and more with CHF as having prior hospitalisation for CHF (57% v 43%; P < 0.001) and being fully dependent on others for care (24% v 13%; P = 0.001).

Quality indicators
All hospitals

ACS: Significant increases were seen between the baseline and post-intervention periods in the proportions of highly eligible patients who received therapeutic heparin (89% v 70%; P < 0.001) and lipid-lowering agents (84% v 76%; P = 0.03; Box 3). Significant changes were also seen in the proportions of all patients receiving these treatments as well as angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors (64% v 56%; P = 0.02), early use (during admission or within 30 days of discharge) of coronary angiography (52% v 39%; P < 0.001), in-hospital cardiac counselling (65% v 43%; P < 0.001), and referral to outpatient cardiac rehabilitation (15% v 5%; P < 0.001). There was no change in rates of in-hospital death (4.8% v 4.5%) or 30-day same-cause readmission (5.2% v 4.2%), or in mean length of stay (6.7 days v 6.6 days).

CHF: Significant increases were observed in the proportion of highly eligible patients who received β-blockers (57% v 41%; P = 0.04), combined with a decrease in numbers of patients receiving deleterious agents, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or negatively inotropic calcium antagonists (13% v 23%; P = 0.04,Box 3). Significant increases were also seen in the proportions of all patients receiving second-line vasodilators (16% v 7%; P = 0.01) and digoxin (52% v 34%; P < 0.001). Rates of in-hospital death (6.8% v 6.7%) and mean length of stay (8.2 days for both periods) did not change, but 30-day same-cause readmission rates decreased significantly (2.4 % v 7.2%; P = 0.02).


This study suggests that multihospital collaborations using performance feedback and multifaceted quality improvement interventions accelerate shifts in acute cardiac care towards best practice within relatively short time frames. Significant improvements were seen in nine of 19 process-of-care indicators over an interaudit interval of 6 months. Highest scores for most quality indicators were seen in tertiary hospitals and in those engaged in intensive quality-improvement programs.

However, potential for improvement persists, especially with regard to the timeliness of thrombolysis, provision of in-hospital cardiac counselling, referral to cardiac rehabilitation, and use of non-invasive stress testing to identify reversible ischaemia in patients with ACS, along with objective assessment of left ventricular function and more aggressive use of second-line vasodilators, β-blockers and warfarin in patients with CHF.

Study limitations: The absence of a control group was a limitation of the study. It is possible that improvements in care may reflect general trends rather than intervention effects. Various randomised trials of in-hospital quality improvement programs targeting acute cardiac care have shown similar improvements in both intervention and control patients.19,20 However, other controlled studies demonstrate better care4-6 and outcomes21 for patients subjected to quality-improvement strategies.

We argue that general trends are unlikely to be the sole explanation for the changes in process-of-care indicators seen in this study. Since late 1999, the Global Registry of Acute Coronary Events (GRACE) has collected data about management of ACS from 95 hospitals in 14 countries, including six Australian hospitals located in Bathurst, Sydney, and Melbourne.22,23 With the exception of heparin use, no process indicators have shown significant variation over time in the Australian hospitals compared with hospitals in other countries.

In the current study, the proportions of highly eligible patients receiving heparin, lipid-lowering agents and coronary angiography increased over 19 months by 19%, 8% and 13%, respectively, compared with no change, 4% and 3% increase in patients reported to GRACE over the 18-month period July 2000 to December 200123 (Box 4).

Although similar registry data over time are lacking for patients with CHF, a single large survey of European hospitals from 2001–200224 reported overall rates of use of medications similar to those in our baseline patients: second-line vasodilators, 5% v 7%; β-blockers, 37% v 34%; and digoxin, 36% v 34%.

We concede that current research evidence may invalidate eligibility criteria of some of our process-of-care indicators, but all accorded with evidence available in mid-2001. Legitimate but unrecorded reasons for withholding care were not ascertained, but their prevalence is unlikely to have changed markedly between audits.

The applicability of our results may be questioned, as only eight of the 25 major (≥ 200 beds) public hospitals in Queensland participated. However, study hospitals accounted for 40% (5451/13 486) and 34% (1714/5068) of all admissions to Queensland hospitals with a principal discharge diagnosis of ACS or CHF, respectively, in the fiscal year 2000–2001 (Dr Michael Coory, Queensland Health Information Centre, personal communication).

Comparisons with other quality improvement studies: Our post-intervention results for patients with ACS compare well with those reported from other collaborations that used similar methods and included control groups. The proportions of highly eligible patients with ACS receiving ACE inhibitors and early coronary angiography in the post-intervention period were similar to those reported at the conclusion of the GAP (Guidelines Applied to Practice) program in the United States6 (80% v 86% and 72% v 76%, respectively), while the proportion receiving lipid-lowering agents was higher (84% v 75%).

Implications for practice: This study and others4-8 suggest that evidence–practice gaps in in-hospital care can be reduced by implementation of quality-improvement interventions. Our collaboration emphasised:

  • developing best-practice standards and process-of-care indicators that were evidence-based, expert-endorsed, and agreed by all participants;25

  • establishing systems for collecting and analysing standardised patient data across multiple sites and for regularly reporting comparative performance data;26

  • implementing decision support at the point of care,27 redesigning systems of care, using opinion leaders,5 and directing resources to improving access to indicated clinical services;28

  • forming and nurturing interdisciplinary groups that addressed inefficiencies at critical interfaces (eg, between emergency departments and coronary care units);29 and

  • networking of hospitals and sharing of experiences and resources across sites.

Quality of in-hospital care of patients with acute cardiac conditions may be enhanced if admitting hospitals engage in systematic quality-improvement programs which feature feedback of process-based quality indicators combined with decision-support interventions and organisational change. Economies of scale and more rapid change may be achieved if programs are conducted as multisite collaborations with support from government agencies. At the time of publication, another eight major hospitals in Queensland have joined the collaboration during the 12 months since January 2003.

2: Characteristics of patients sampled in the baseline and post-intervention periods


Post-  intervention

Acute coronary syndromes

Number of patients



Mean age in years (SD)

68.1 (14.2)

67.3 (13.8)

Sex (number of men)

505 (62.6%)

451 (62.9%)

Previous ACS

322 (39.9%)

316 (44.1%)

Past CHF

84 (10.4%)

70 (9.8%)


408 (50.6%)

382 (53.3%)


278 (34.4%)

307 (42.8%)

Current smoker

206 (25.5%)

171 (23.8%)


193 (23.9%)

177 (24.7%)

Peripheral vascular disease

67 (8.3%)

50 (7.0%)

Chronic atrial fibrillation

41 (5.1%)

53 (7.4%)

Infarction type


606 (75.1%)

539 (75.2%)


201 (24.9%)

178 (24.8%)

Admission source

Direct ED presentation

704 (87.2%)

606 (84.5%)

Transfer from other hospital

103 (12.8%)

111 (15.5%)

Congestive heart failure

Number of patients



Mean age in years (SD)

76.6 (10.9)

76.9 (11.7)

Sex (number of men)

181 (50.7%)

104 (47.3%)

Previous hospitalisation with CHF*

152 (43.1%)

125 (56.8%)

Underlying cause for CHF


205 (57.4%)

122 (55.5%)

Coronary artery disease*

172 (48.2%)*

133 (60.5%)*

Chronic atrial fibrillation

135 (37.8%)

81 (36.8%)


93 (26.1%)

73 (33.2%)

Current smoker

29 (8.1%)

20 (9.1%)

Independent living*

48 (13.4%)*

53 (24.1%)*

ACS = acute coronary syndromes. CHF = congestive heart failure. STEMI = ST-segment elevation myocardial infarction. NSTEMI = non-STEMI. ED = emergency department. * Statistically significant (P < 0.05) difference between baseline and post-intervention groups. † More than one cause possible, and total more than 100%.

3: Comparison of process-of-care indicators at baseline and after intervention

Process indicator



P (adjusted*)

Acute coronary syndromes


Highly eligible patients

113/120 (94%)

122/142 (86%)


All patients

145/807 (18%)

130/717 (18%)


Time to thrombolysis < 30 minutes

Patients receiving thrombolysis

42/113 (37%)

45/122 (37%)



Highly eligible patients

164/233 (70%)

178/201 (89%)

< 0.001

All patients

578/807 (72%)

599/717 (84%)

< 0.001


Highly eligible patients

367/462 (79%)

360/437 (82%)


All patients

572/807 (71%)

545/717 (76%)


Antiplatelet agents

Highly eligible patients

655/700 (94%)

592/626 (95%)


All patients

706/807 (88%)

641/717 (89%)


ACE inhibitors

Highly eligible patients

141/198 (71%)

144/179 (80%)


All patients

451/807 (56%)

457/717 (64%)


Lipid-lowering agents

Highly eligible patients

330/436 (76%)

331/393 (84%)


All patients

496/807 (62%)

513/717 (72%)

< 0.001

In-hospital cardiac counselling

All patients

347/807 (43%)

463/717 (65%)


Outpatient cardiac rehabilitation

All patients

43/807 (5%)

107/717 (15%)

< 0.001

Early coronary angiography

Highly eligible patients

84/142 (59%)

124/173 (72%)


All patients

318/807 (39%)

375/717 (52%)

< 0.001

Non-invasive stress testing

Highly eligible patients

89/186 (48%)

39/120 (33%)


All patients

147/807 (18%)

98/717 (14%)


Congestive heart failure

Assessment of LV function

All patients

218/357 (61%)

137/220 (62%)


ACE inhibitors

Highly eligible patients

158/210 (75%)

126/168 (75%)


All patients

244/357 (68%)

151/220 (69%)


Second-line vasodilators

Highly eligible patients

4/14 (29%)

12/20 (60%)


All patients

26/357 (7%)

35/220 (16%)



Highly eligible patients

84/203 (41%)

70/122 (57%)


All patients

121/357 (34%)

114/220 (52%)

< 0.001


Highly eligible patients

71/113 (63%)

49/65 (75%)


All patients

121/357 (34%)

114/220 (52%)

< 0.001


Highly eligible patients

39/94 (42%)

23/60 (38%)


All patients

72/357 (20%)

50/220 (23%)


Deleterious agents

All patients

82/357 (23%)

29/220 (13%)


ACE = angiotensin-converting enzyme. LV = left ventricular. * Adjusted by step-down Bonferroni method.18 † During admission or within 30 days of discharge.

Received 14 July 2003, accepted 29 January 2004

  • Ian A Scott1
  • Irene C Darwin2
  • Kathy H Harvey3
  • Andy B Duke4
  • Hazel Harden5
  • Nicholas D Buckmaster6
  • John Atherton7
  • Michael Ward8
  • for the CHI Cardiac Collaborative*

  • 1 Princess Alexandra Hospital, Brisbane, QLD.
  • 2 Queensland Health, Brisbane, QLD.
  • 3 Caboolture Hospital, Caboolture, QLD.
  • 4 Royal Brisbane Hospital, Brisbane, QLD.



The authors wish to thank Mark Jones, Biostatistician, Clinical Services Evaluation Unit, Princess Alexandra Hospital, Brisbane, QLD, for statistical advice.

The members of the Collaborative for Healthcare Improvement Cardiac Collaborative in addition to the authors are: Patrick Derhy, Simon Dignam and Kate Quigley (Collaborative for Healthcare Improvement); Melodie Downey (Princess Alexandra Hospital); Associate Professor Charles Denaro, Therese Theile, Karen Kasper, Julia Byrne (Royal Brisbane Hospital); Dr Judy Flores (Queen Elizabeth II Hospital); Professor Justin La Brooy, Dr John Mason, Dr Santhosh David, Leonie Jones (Townsville Hospital); Dr Rohan Grimley, Dr Steven Coverdale, Sharron Berthelsen (Nambour Hospital); Wendy Haerer (Caboolture Hospital); Dr Peter Stride, Kylie Hillier (Redcliffe Hospital); Dr Lisa Ryan, Frances Buckley (Ipswich Hospital); Dr Ken McCallum, Dr Heinrich Betz, Majella Van Tienen (Ingham Hospital).

Competing interests:

None identified.

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