Case study

International Journal of Mental Health Systems

, 6:20

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Implementing practice guidelines for anxiety disorders in secondary mental health care: a case study

  • Maarten K van DijkAffiliated withHSK Group Email author 
  • , Marc JPM VerbraakAffiliated withHSK GroupBehavioral Science Institute, Academic Centre for Social Sciences, Radboud University Nijmegen
  • , Desiree B OosterbaanAffiliated withDepartment of Psychiatry, UMC St. Radboud, Overwaal Centre for Anxiety Disorders
  • , Anton JLM van BalkomAffiliated withDepartment of Psychiatry and EMGO Institute, VU University Medical Center and GGZinGeest



Recent years have seen the large-scale development of clinical practice guidelines for mental disorders in several countries. In the Netherlands, more than ten multidisciplinary guidelines for mental health care have been developed since 2003. The first dealt with the treatment of anxiety disorders. An important question was whether it is feasible to implement these guidelines because implementing practice guidelines is often difficult. Although several implementation interventions have proven effective, there seems to be no ready-made strategy that works in all circumstances.

Case description

The Dutch multidisciplinary guidelines for anxiety disorders were implemented in a community mental health care centre, located in the east of the Netherlands. The centre provides secondary outpatient care. The unit within the centre that specializes in the treatment of anxiety disorders has 16 team members with diverse professional backgrounds. Important steps in the process of implementing the guidelines were analysing the care provided before start of the implementation to determine the goals for improvement, and analysing the context and target group for implementation. Based on these analyses, a tailor-made multifaceted implementation strategy was developed that combined the reorganization of the care process, the development of instruction materials, the organization of educational meetings and the use of continuous quality circles to improve adherence to guidelines.

Discussion and evaluation

Significant improvements in adherence rates were made in the aspect of care that was targeted for change. An increase was found in the number of patients being provided with recommended forms of psychotherapeutic treatment, ranging from 43% to 54% (p < 0.01). The delivery of adequate pharmacological treatment was not explicitly targeted for change remained constant.


The case study presented here shows that the implementation of practice guidelines for anxiety disorders in mental health care is feasible. Based on the results of our study, the implementation model used offers a useful approach to guideline implementation. By describing the exact steps that were followed in detail and providing some of the tools that were used in the study, we hope the replication of this implementation methodology is made more practical for others in the future.


Anxiety disorders Practice guidelines Implementation strategy Tools for implementation