Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California


UC San Francisco Previously Published Works bannerUCSF

A complex intervention to improve implementation of World Health Organization guidelines for diagnosis of severe illness in low-income settings: a quasi-experimental study from Uganda.



To improve management of severely ill hospitalized patients in low-income settings, the World Health Organization (WHO) established a triage tool called "Quick Check" to provide clinicians with a rapid, standardized approach to identify patients with severe illness based on recognition of abnormal vital signs. Despite the availability of these guidelines, recognition of severe illness remains challenged in low-income settings, largely as a result of infrequent vital sign monitoring.


We conducted a staggered, pre-post quasi-experimental study at four inpatient health facilities in western Uganda to assess the impact of a multi-modal intervention for improving quality of care following formal training on WHO "Quick Check" guidelines for diagnosis of severe illness in low-income settings. Intervention components were developed using the COM-B ("capability," "opportunity," and "motivation" determine "behavior") model and included clinical mentoring by an expert in severe illness care, collaborative improvement meetings with external support supervision, and continuous audits of clinical performance with structured feedback.


There were 5759 patients hospitalized from August 2014 to May 2015: 1633 were admitted before and 4126 during the intervention period. Designed to occur twice monthly, collaborative improvement meetings occurred every 2-4 weeks at each site. Clinical mentoring sessions, designed to occur monthly, occurred every 4-6 months at each site. Audit and feedback reports were implemented weekly as designed. During the intervention period, there were significant increases in the site-adjusted likelihood of initial assessment of temperature, heart rate, blood pressure, respiratory rate, mental status, and pulse oximetry. Patients admitted during the intervention period were significantly more likely to be diagnosed with sepsis (4.3 vs. 0.4%, risk ratio 10.1, 95% CI 3.0-31.0, p < 0.001) and severe respiratory distress (3.9 vs. 0.9%, risk ratio 4.5, 95% CI 1.8-10.9, p = 0.001).


Theory-informed quality improvement programs can improve vital sign collection and diagnosis of severe illness in low-income settings. Further implementation, evaluation, and scale-up of such interventions are needed to enhance hospital-based triage and severe illness management in these settings.

Trial registration

Severe illness management system (SIMS) intervention development, ISRCTN46976783.

Many UC-authored scholarly publications are freely available on this site because of the UC's open access policies. Let us know how this access is important for you.

Main Content
For improved accessibility of PDF content, download the file to your device.
Current View