By | July 9, 2019

Continuous quality improvement (CQI) is an idea that pushes all members of your organization to ask questions like, how are we doing? Can we do something better? Can we do things more efficiently and be more effective? Not only does it encourage the asking of these questions, but it also prompts people to answer them, and make decisions for the good of the organization. CQI is not only an idea, but a mindset that drives people to continuously think of ways to improve.

An excellent piece from Smartsheet called A Business Guide to Effective Quality Improvement in Healthcare included commentary from Relias’s own Dr. Carol Clayton, the VP of Population Health, and Jan Wilson, Director of Learning Design and Outcomes.  They are highly experienced and knowledgeable, and we want to share their thoughts on continuous improvement.

CQI Success Demands Employee Engagement

Organizations that have this CQI mindset of continually improving benefit from error reduction, increased adaptability and productivity, and a boost in overall morale. Specifically, in healthcare, the goal of CQI is to improve patient health, speed up recovery times, and make the system that facilitates this more efficient and effective. Wilson says “When [quality improvement] is working well, people are more engaged in their jobs. They’re proud of what they do, and they believe in what they do.”

Culture Must Support CQI

In order for a quality improvement program to work well, it needs to be ingrained into the culture. Everyone in the organization needs to be onboard and understand what the goal is, which is not always easy. According to Clayton, creating a culture of CQI is one of the biggest challenges. Healthcare is “an overworked, understaffed, stressful environment.” Because of this, CQI often “becomes a department… it’s a person or two or three people that are over there doing a project, trying to collect information to meet some board requirement. So, it’s not actually inculcated in the culture and the heart and soul of the organization,” which hinders the success of an idea like this.

When facing this challenge and attempting to create a culture of continuous quality improvement, it is important to do it in the right way. For example, improvements should be made with the intention of bettering the overall system instead of trying to correct individual mistakes. “Culture is a huge determinant in terms of whether these [efforts] will be effective or not,” says Wilson. “If an organization espouses a punitive culture in which people who speak up about mistakes — made by themselves or others — are punished, then systems won’t change.” Continuously improving requires a constant flow of new ideas, so you want to have a system in place that encourages people to offer their thoughts.

Leaders Must Buy In

This thing we call culture, of course, is nothing without the people in it. This is why it is essential to have everyone on board, from the leaders and CEO’s to the everyday clinical staff. “If you come in with a leader’s [support], then it’s part of the fabric of your system,” and without that support, Clayton explains, “it becomes this one-off, short-term exercise that fails and is not repeated.” The people that make decisions are the ones that will be able to get people behind the idea of continuous quality improvement and make it more than a small project that doesn’t make any headway.

On the other hand, the everyday clinical staff that is actually working with patients and seeing things upfront are the ones that most often will have ideas for solutions. It makes sense, then, that keeping these people on board is also crucial to the success of a system that encourages the introduction of ways to improve. “If you don’t have buy-in from your physician groups for a project in a hospital setting, you’re pretty much sunk from the start,” Says Clayton.

Continuous quality improvement programs benefit the healthcare industry by providing a way to consistently adapt and improve on the systems in place that allow for the quality treatment of patients. They encourage an environment that is open to suggestions and keeps people engaged in their jobs. Implementing this way of thinking is not always easy, however, so building a culture that emphasizes this philosophy takes dedication.

Carissa Kohn-Johnson

Carissa Kohn-Johnson has a background in information technology and is currently the Relias Product Marketing Manager for population health management solutions, focusing on solutions for payers and health plans. She also part of the team that provides performance management, population health management, risk stratification analytics, and practice performance solutions for health plans and behavioral health organizations. She studied Sociology and Gerontology at Nazareth College and Biological Sciences at NC State University.

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