Alignment between chronic disease policy and practice: case study at a primary care facility

BACKGROUND: Chronic disease is by far the leading cause of death worldwide and of increasing concern in low- and middle-income countries, including South Africa, where chronic diseases disproportionately affect the poor living in urban settings. The Provincial Government of the Western Cape (PGWC) has prioritized the management of chronic diseases and has developed a policy and framework (Adult Chronic Disease Management Policy 2009) to guide and improve the prevention and management of chronic diseases at a primary care level. The aim of this study is to assess the alignment of current primary care practices with the PGWC Adult Chronic Disease Management policy. METHODS: One comprehensive primary care facility in a Cape Town health district was used as a case study. Data was collected via semi-structured interviews (n = 10), focus groups (n = 8) and document review. Participants in this study included clinical staff involved in chronic disease management at the facility and at a provincial level. Data previously collected using the Integrated Audit Tool for Chronic Disease Management (part of the PGWC Adult Chronic Disease Management policy) formed the basis of the guide questions used in focus groups and interviews. RESULTS: The results of this research indicate a significant gap between policy and its implementation to improve and support chronic disease management at this primary care facility. A major factor seems to be poor policy knowledge by clinicians, which contributes to an individual rather than a team approach in the management of chronic disease patients. Poor interaction between facility- and community-based services also emerged. A number of factors were identified that seemed to contribute to poor policy implementation, the majority of which were staff related and ultimately resulted in a decrease in the quality of patient care. CONCLUSIONS: Chronic disease policy implementation needs to be improved in order to support chronic disease management at this facility. It is possible that similar findings and factors are present at other primary care facilities in Cape Town. At a philosophical level, this research highlights the tension between primary health care principles and a diseased-based approach in a primary care setting.