How Can We Recognize Continuous Quality Improvement?

Published in: International Journal for Quality in Health Care, v. 26, no. 1, Feb. 2014, p. 6-15

Posted on RAND.org on January 01, 2013

by Lisa V. Rubenstein, Dmitry Khodyakov, Susanne Hempel, Marjorie Danz, Susanne Salem-Schatz, Robbie Foy, Sean Michael O'Neill, Siddhartha Dalal, Paul G. Shekelle

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OBJECTIVE: Continuous quality improvement (CQI) methods are foundational approaches to improving healthcare delivery. Publications using the term CQI, however, are methodologically heterogeneous, and labels other than CQI are used to signify relevant approaches. Standards for identifying the use of CQI based on its key methodological features could enable more effective learning across quality improvement (QI) efforts. The objective was to identify essential methodological features for recognizing CQI. DESIGN: Previous work with a 12-member international expert panel identified reliably abstracted CQI methodological features. We tested which features met rigorous a priori standards as essential features of CQI using a three-phase online modified-Delphi process. SETTING: Primarily United States and Canada. PARTICIPANTS: 119 QI experts randomly assigned into four on-line panels. INTERVENTION(S): Participants rated CQI features and discussed their answers using online, anonymous and asynchronous discussion boards. We analyzed ratings quantitatively and discussion threads qualitatively. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURE(S) Panel consensus on definitional CQI features. RESULTS: Seventy-nine (66%) panelists completed the process. Thirty-three completers self-identified as QI researchers, 18 as QI practitioners and 28 as both equally. The features 'systematic data guided activities,' 'designing with local conditions in mind' and 'iterative development and testing' met a priori standards as essential CQI features. Qualitative analyses showed cross-cutting themes focused on differences between QI and CQI. CONCLUSIONS: We found consensus among a broad group of CQI researchers and practitioners on three features as essential for identifying QI work more specifically as 'CQI.' All three features are needed as a minimum standard for recognizing CQI methods.

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