The management of aortic stenosis rests on accurate echocardiographic diagnosis. Hence, it was chosen as a test case to examine the utility of continuous quality improvement (CQI) approaches to increase echocardiographic data accuracy and reliability. A novel, multistep CQI program was designed and prospectively used to investigate whether it could minimize the difference in aortic valve mean gradients reported by echocardiography when compared with cardiac catheterization.Methods and Results—
The Duke Echo Laboratory compiled a multidisciplinary CQI team including 4 senior sonographers and MD faculty to develop a mapped CQI process that incorporated Intersocietal Accreditation Commission standards. Quarterly, the CQI team reviewed all moderate- or greater-severity aortic stenosis echocardiography studies with concomitant catheterization data, and deidentified individual and group results were shared at meetings attended by cardiologists and sonographers. After review of 2011 data, the CQI team proposed specific amendments implemented over 2012: the use of nontraditional imaging and Doppler windows as well as evaluation of aortic gradients by a second sonographer. The primary outcome measure was agreement between catheterization- and echocardiography-derived mean gradients calculated by using the coverage probability index with a prespecified acceptable echocardiography–catheterization difference of <10 mm Hg in mean gradient. Between January 2011 and January 2014, 2093 echocardiograms reported moderate or greater aortic stenosis. Among cases with available catheterization data pre- and post-CQI, the coverage probability index increased from 54% to 70% (P=0.03; 98 cases, year 2011; 70 cases, year 2013). The proportion of patients referred for invasive valve hemodynamics decreased from 47% pre-CQI to 19% post-CQI (P<0.001).Conclusions—
A laboratory practice pattern that was amenable to reform was identified, and a multistep modification was designed and implemented that produced clinically valuable performance improvements. The new protocol improved aortic stenosis mean gradient agreement between echocardiography and catheterization and was associated with a measurable decrease in referrals of patients for invasive studies.