Evidence for models of diagnostic service provision in the community: literature mapping exercise and focused rapid reviews
Health Services and Delivery Research
BackgroundCurrent NHS policy favours the expansion of diagnostic testing services in community and primary care settings.ObjectivesOur objectives were to identify current models of community diagnostic services in the UK and internationally and to assess the evidence for quality, safety and clinical effectiveness of such services. We were also interested in whether or not there is any evidence to support a broader range of diagnostic tests being provided in the community.Review methodsWe
... ed an initial broad literature mapping exercise to assess the quantity and nature of the published research evidence. The results were used to inform selection of three areas for investigation in more detail. We chose to perform focused reviews on logistics of diagnostic modalities in primary care (because the relevant issues differ widely between different types of test); diagnostic ultrasound (a key diagnostic technology affected by developments in equipment); and a diagnostic pathway (assessment of breathlessness) typically delivered wholly or partly in primary care/community settings. Databases and other sources searched, and search dates, were decided individually for each review. Quantitative and qualitative systematic reviews and primary studies of any design were eligible for inclusion.ResultsWe identified seven main models of service that are delivered in primary care/community settings and in most cases with the possible involvement of community/primary care staff. Not all of these models are relevant to all types of diagnostic test. Overall, the evidence base for community- and primary care-based diagnostic services was limited, with very few controlled studies comparing different models of service. We found evidence from different settings that these services can reduce referrals to secondary care and allow more patients to be managed in primary care, but the quality of the research was generally poor. Evidence on the quality (including diagnostic accuracy and appropriateness of test ordering) and safety of such services was mixed.ConclusionsIn the absence of clear evidence of superior clinical effectiveness and cost-effectiveness, the expansion of community-based services appears to be driven by other factors. These include policies to encourage moving services out of hospitals; the promise of reduced waiting times for diagnosis; the availability of a wider range of suitable tests and/or cheaper, more user-friendly equipment; and the ability of commercial providers to bid for NHS contracts. However, service development also faces a number of barriers, including issues related to staffing, training, governance and quality control.LimitationsWe have not attempted to cover all types of diagnostic technology in equal depth. Time and staff resources constrained our ability to carry out review processes in duplicate. Research in this field is limited by the difficulty of obtaining, from publicly available sources, up-to-date information about what models of service are commissioned, where and from which providers.Future workThere is a need for research to compare the outcomes of different service models using robust study designs. Comparisons of 'true' community-based services with secondary care-based open-access services and rapid access clinics would be particularly valuable. There are specific needs for economic evaluations and for studies that incorporate effects on the wider health system. There appears to be no easy way of identifying what services are being commissioned from whom and keeping up with local evaluations of new services, suggesting a need to improve the availability of information in this area.FundingThe National Institute for Health Research Health Services and Delivery Research programme.