Educational outreach in an integrated clinical management tool for nurse-led non-communicable chronic disease management in primary care in South Africa: pragmatic cluster randomised controlled trial

Lara R. Fairall, Naomi Folb, Venessa Timmerman, Krisela Steyn, Carl Lombard, Max O. Bachmann, Eric D. Bateman, Crick Lund, Ruth Cornick, Gill Faris, Tom Gaziano, Daniella Georgeu-Pepper, Merrick Zwarenstein, Naomi S. Levitt

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Background: In many low-income countries, care for patients with non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and mental health conditions is provided by nurses. The benefits of nurse substitution and supplementation in NCD care in high income settings are well recognised, but evidence from low- and middle-income countries is limited. Primary Care 101 (PC101) is a programme designed to support and expand nurses’ role in NCD care, comprising a clinical management tool with enhanced prescribing provisions for nurses, and educational outreach. We evaluated the effectiveness of the programme on primary care nurses’ capacity to manage NCDs (ISRCTN20283604).
Methods and findings: In a cluster randomised controlled trial design, 38 public sector primary care clinics in the Western Cape province, South Africa, were randomised. Nurses in the intervention clinics were trained to use the PC101 management tool during educational outreach sessions delivered by health department trainers and authorised to prescribe an expanded range of drugs for several NCDs. Control clinics continued use of the Practical Approach to Lung Health and HIV /AIDS in South Africa (PALSA PLUS) management tool and usual training. Patients attending these clinics with one or more of hypertension (3227), diabetes (1842), chronic respiratory disease (1157) or screened positive for depression (2466), totalling 4393 patients, were enrolled between March 2011 and October 2011. Primary outcomes were treatment intensification for hypertension, diabetes, and chronic respiratory disease cohorts, defined as the proportion of patients in whom treatment was escalated during follow-up over 14 months, and case detection in the depression cohort. Primary outcome data were analysed for 2110 (97%) intervention and 2170 (97%) control group patients. Treatment intensification rates in intervention clinics were not superior to those in the control group clinics [hypertension: 44% in the intervention group versus 40% in the controls, risk ratio (RR) 1.08 (95% CI: 0.94 to 1.24; p=0.252); diabetes: 57% v 50%, RR 1.10 (0.97 to 1.24;p=0.126); chronic respiratory disease: 14% v 12%, RR 1.08 (0.75 to 1.55; p=0.674); and case detection of depression: 18% v 24%, RR 0.76 (0.53 to 1.10; p=0.142)]. No adverse effects of the nurses’ expanded scope of practice were observed. Limitations of the study include dependence on self-reported diagnoses for inclusion in the patient cohorts, limited data on uptake of PC101 by users, reliance on process outcomes, and insufficient resources to measure important health outcomes, such as HbA1c, at follow-up.
Conclusions: Educational outreach to primary care nurses through use of a management tool involving an expanded role in managing NCDs, is feasible and safe but was not associated with treatment intensification or case detection for index diseases. This notwithstanding, the intervention, with adjustments to improve its effectiveness, has been adopted for implementation in primary care clinics throughout South Africa.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1002178
JournalPLoS Medicine
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 22 Nov 2016

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