Improvements are the name of the game in just about any industry out there; the better the product or service the more likely you are to stay ahead of the competition. This tends to be a linear thought process and can be quite easy to track, however quality improvement principles in health care are not very linear, they have many components, involve many levels of participation and assessment of the different sections that make up the organization as a whole.
One of the buzzwords making its rounds around the United States and the world is equality. There is a desire for everyone to have equal stuff, equal pay and equal health care treatment. Though we can’t tackle health care for the entire world, we can start with things at home and across the nation. There is quite a disparity when it comes to treatment facilities and outcomes depending on where someone lives. Inner city and highly populated city centers don’t always have the resources and financial backing to provide care like other receive in more affluent or less populated areas.
Because of these gap in coverage, there has been a cry for creating a more standardized system to replace what currently exists and have this new structure be based off performance standards and measures that are uniform no matter where the organization is located. By establishing public reporting and corrective actions with a single entity that received the reporting and deals out the corrective action items, this is much closer to being a possibility.
“Quality is everyone’s responsibility and we never have to stop getting better” W.E.Deming
No one can just will this all into place, nor does it happen without hurdles and challenges because human nature doesn’t take well to change, especially big change. Part of moving things along means the program has to be nailed down and sold as a way to improve healthcare principles for everyone. Part of the standards that have gone into this include:
- Collecting and analyzing the data from an organization
- Measuring what is right and wrong within an organization
- Creating a plan to implement changes
- Assessing the changes along the way
When You Find Yourself in Back of the Line
Part of the push to the health care industry to make changes and implement equality is that health care is playing a bit of a technological catch-up game compared to other trades and businesses. This catch-up game means that some steps of testing and implementation must be rushed through, skipped over or combined with other steps as a means of being more efficient in processes.
The point of progress and change, especially for health care providers, is to improve care and outcomes along with lowering the cost to provide that care. There are a number of areas that, when focused upon, can offer the biggest band for the buck to accomplishing both aspects of the goals. When hospitals pay special attention to reducing hospital readmissions, especially unnecessary ones, resources and energy can be concentrated on the more critical and emergency-based patients.
Improving the discharge process can also lead to patient satisfaction and cost reduction over the long-term in the respect that when patients understand follow up appointments and procedures, they are more likely to feel pushed out the door and left to their own devices, only to return because they are suffering from the same problem or because they are seeking answers to the course of self-treatment they are to follow. If they need an appointment with their family doctor, clear instructions should layout when to call and when that next appointment should roughly be scheduled. With some facilities, a hospital would be able to set that next visit up and eliminate one more task from a patient’s to-do list.
If a patient requires further testing or outside diagnoses, handoff to other departments or facilities should be as seamless and easy to navigate as possible. What may seem effortless for one person may be overwhelming to another. Taking into consideration that new situations and locations may need to be described for certain patients in order to put them at ease and accept the next level of care they need.
Obviously, this doesn’t even begin to touch on a majority of the areas of focus that organizations could and should be learning about, but sometimes a process is better understood when there are working examples. This can and is being done on a voluntary basis with hospitals and facilities that are willing to implement changes that may at some future point become mandatory for all facilities. Some of these items coming down the pipe on one level of implementation or another include:
- Electronic Health Records (EHR) employment
- Healthcare IT quality improvement principles
- Reimbursement mandate schedule
- New care delivery models
- Focus on patient-centered quality
The Importance of Data in Quality Improvement
Having the Right Data in the Right Format at the Right Time in the Right Hands is important if a quality improvement initiative is to be executed successfully. It is more than a mouthful of doing the right things, but it is essential for every piece of the healthcare puzzle to have the information they need. Data is key for decisions to be made when dealing with patients and managing an organization. The right data to a doctor will help diagnose, treat and aid in the health of a patient. The right data in the hands of billing will make sure that payments are keeping the lights on and the doors open. And, the right data in the hands of administrators help to find inefficiencies and wasteful spending.
Quality improvement principles in health care are not going to change overnight, nor are they going to be applied in everyday work environments without some pushback from those being asked to make the changes. This is expected and will require a balance of push and pull. Improvements are not just a nicety in quality industries, but in healthcare, it is a necessity. As principles are set up to make the progress in patient outcomes and managing costs, more widespread equality in care will be felt and seen.