Improving the effectiveness of multidisciplinary team meetings for patients with chronic diseases: a prospective observational study
Background Multidisciplinary team (MDT) meetings have been endorsed by the Department of Health as the core model for managing chronic diseases. However, the evidence for their effectiveness is mixed and the degree to which they have been absorbed into clinical practice varies widely across conditions and settings. We aimed to identify the key characteristics of chronic disease MDT meetings that are associated with decision implementation, a measure of effectiveness, and to derive a set of feasible modifications to MDT meetings to improve decision-making. Methods We undertook a mixed-methods prospective observational study of 12 MDTs in the London and North Thames area, covering cancer, heart failure, mental health and memory clinic teams. Data were collected by observation of 370 MDT meetings, completion of the Team Climate Inventory (TCI) by 161 MDT members, interviews with 53 MDT members and 20 patients, and review of 2654 patients’ medical records. We examined the influence of patient-related factors (disease, age, sex, deprivation indicator, whether or not their preferences and other clinical/health behaviours were mentioned) and MDT features (team climate and skill mix) on the implementation of MDT treatment plans. Interview and observation data were thematically analysed and integrated to explore possible explanations for the quantitative findings, and to identify areas of diverse beliefs and practice across MDT meetings. Based on these data, we used a modified formal consensus technique involving expert stakeholders to derive a set of indications of good practice for effective MDT meetings. Results The adjusted odds of implementation were reduced by 25% for each additional professional group represented [95% confidence interval (CI) 0.66 to 0.87], though there was some evidence of a differential effect by type of disease. Implementation was more likely in MDTs with clear goals and processes and a good team climate (adjusted odds of implementation increased by 7%; 95% CI 1% to 13% for a 0.1-unit increase in TCI score). Implementation varied by disease category (with the lowest adjusted odds of implementation in mental health teams) and by patient deprivation (adjusted odds of implementation for patients in the most compared with least deprived areas were 0.60, 95% CI 0.39 to 0.91). We ascertained 16 key themes within five domains where there was substantial diversity in beliefs and practices across MDT meetings. These related to the purpose, structure, processes and content of MDT meetings, as well as to the role of the patient. We identified 68 potential recommendations for improving the effectiveness of MDT meetings. Of these, 21 engendered both strong agreement (median ≥ 7) and low variation in the extent of agreement (mean absolute deviation from the median of < 1.11) among the expert consensus panel. These related to the purpose of the meetings (e.g. that agreeing treatment plans should take precedence over other objectives); meeting processes (e.g. that MDT decision implementation should be audited annually); content of the discussion (e.g. that information on comorbidities and past medical history should be routinely available); and the role of the patient (e.g. concerning the most appropriate time to discuss treatment options). Panellists from all specialties agreed that these recommendations were both desirable and feasible. We were unable to achieve consensus for 17 statements. In part, this was a result of disease-specific differences including the need to be prescriptive about MDT membership, with local flexibility deemed appropriate for heart failure and uniformity supported for cancer. In other cases, our data suggest that some processes (e.g. discussion of unrelated research topics) should be locally agreed, depending on the preferences of individual teams. Conclusions Substantial diversity exists in the purpose, structure, processes and content of MDT meetings. Greater multidisciplinarity is not necessarily associated with more effective decision-making and MDT decisions (as measured by decision implementation). Decisions were less likely to be implemented for patients living in more deprived areas. We identified 21 indications of good practice for improving the effectiveness of MDT meetings, which expert stakeholders from a range of chronic disease specialties agree are both desirable and feasible. These are important because MDT meetings are resource-intensive and they should deliver value to the NHS and patients. Priorities for future work include research to examine whether or not the 21 indications of good practice identified in this study will lead to better decision-making; for example, incorporating the indications into a modified MDT and experimentally evaluating its effectiveness in a pragmatic randomised controlled trial. Other areas for further research include exploring the value of multidisciplinarity in MDT meetings and the reasons for low implementation in community mental health teams. There is also scope to examine the underlying determinants of the inequalities demonstrated in this study, for example by exploring patient preferences in more depth. Finally, future work could examine the association between MDT decision implementation and improvements in patient outcomes.