Does Continuous Quality Improvement in Healthcare Really Exist?

In a day and age where technology is moving forward at an exponential rate, sometime doubling capabilities every couple of years. So the phrase, “if you’re not moving forward, you’ll be left behind” has significant meaning. This is also the case for the healthcare community, too. It may not seem like there is a lot of technology that would apply to everyday processes in a hospital that could be seen as needing to be advanced, especially when you consider the cost of much of the equipment that is utilized. How, then, do you find continuous quality improvement in healthcare?

When talking about improvements in healthcare most outsiders to medicine think more along the lines of equipment, medical procedures and advances in medicine, but there is a lot more that is applicable to quality than these items. Quality management teams start by focusing on a couple of basic questions:

  • How are we doing?
  • Can we do it better?

These questions would suggest a much more internal look at procedures, rather than basing everything off of technology and having the newest a greatest tools in an organization. Rather, the power for understanding and change in already in their hands with the collection and storage of data. Data is where all the answers lie, but you have to know how to harness the data to begin to respond to the above questions.

One of the tools for helping healthcare organizations are using to maintain good organization of data is the EHR (electronic health record) system. This moves all data from analog to digital, or from paper to computer records. This has both benefits and drawbacks, as do most things is life, but the necessity as well as requirement to implement the EHR system overrules much of any complaints to not employing it. The benefits include:

  • Improvement to patient care
  • Improvement to coordinated care
  • Less time required for coordinated care
  • Less likelihood of incorrect or duplicated information
  • Increased engagement with patients
  • More efficiency with cost and resources allocation

Collecting and entering the data is a vital step that should safeguard from as many mistakes as possible. Having a foundational standard to ensure that this step is handled with utmost care must be a priority within every organization. This should also be the case when adding information to a patient’s record to ensure data integrity and accuracy.

Storing and accessing of data sounds like it might be a simple step when dealing with continual quality improvements in healthcare, but it is far from straightforward. Storage of such a mass amount of data requires more than a couple of computers with lot of memory. Because many healthcare organizations are a conglomerate of clinics, offices and hospitals, utilization of data warehouses or repositories are necessary, and allow for medical professionals at different locations to quickly access a patient’s information rather than spending superfluous time waiting for records to be copied and transferred between offices.

Allowing access to someone’s records is essential for timely and effective treatment, there is a level of privacy that is crucial. No one wants their private documents available to just anyone, yet many people are involved in processing a patient above and beyond medical professionals. Billing and insurance departments don’t need complete access to doctor’s notes. As such, governing access to specific aspects of a patient’s records must be established.

When dealing with access and protection of documentation, there is also something else that must be considered: reporting. Everything healthcare facility must report different information as part of their requirements for keeping their doors open or receiving payments/reimbursements from different agencies. Some agencies demand a complete accounting of a patient, while others expect a breakdown of clinical services. With different expectations comes the necessity to treat data differently, and to ensure that only the obligatory information is being passed along.

The amazing thing about all the data that is being collected is that there is a plethora of patterns and information that is also contained within. When an organization is able to dig down through the data and find supporting evidence of ways in which they may work more efficiently, provide better care, have more positive patient outcomes and other patterns, they begin to practice quality improvements and do so knowing where and when to provide it.

Delivering continuous quality improvements in healthcare does exist only when healthcare organizations utilize all the tools available to them, practice data governance and are willing to fix the troubled areas within their organization. It is always ongoing, ever changing and requires diligence, but everyone benefits from doing all of these things.