To improve access to diagnostic evaluations for children younger than 3 years with concerns for possible autism spectrum disorder.
A multidisciplinary “arena model” for children younger than 3 years was developed, tested, and implemented over an approximately 2-year period. Arena assessment teams comprised a developmental behavioral pediatrician (DBP), psychologist, and speech language pathologist (SLP). Quality improvement methods were used during the design phase, conducting Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) cycles and collecting feedback from key stakeholders, and during implementation, plotting data on run charts to measure outcomes of the time to initial visit and time to diagnosis.
Over the 9-month implementation period, 6 arena assessment teams were formed to provide 60 evaluation slots per month for children younger than 3 years. The time to first visit was reduced from a median of 122 days to 19 days, and the time to final diagnosis was reduced from 139 days to 14 days, maintaining these outcomes at <35 and <18 days, respectively, over a 2-year period. Total visits required decreased from 4 to 5 visits to just 2 visits, and the average assessment cost was reduced by $992 per patient. Feedback from both providers and families participating in this model was overwhelmingly positive.
Access for young children referred for developmental assessments can be improved through an understanding of supply and demand and the development of creative and flexible care delivery models.