To begin any project of significant size, whether it is new or renewal, you must have plans and tools with which to work. This is also the case when making quality improvements within a healthcare organization. The bigger question is where to start; are improvements even needed? Which departments are struggling and where? Is the system to blame or processes?
To understand the big picture of quality improvement tools specifically within healthcare, it is necessary to breakdown some of the individual tools and their functions. Fact gathering and storage is the essential foundation to discovery, planning and progression. In the context of tools to improve care, there are two tools that work together but are very separate items. One is the system or software used to gather all necessary information and the second is the data storage in the form of a data warehouse.
The software plays a number of roles, and depending upon the different performance abilities within the system, the input and output functionality will vary, but should include data analytic assessments. What this means is medical record information from all departments is gathered and saved in a way that the system can later go back and pull out data points to produce visible results. These visible results are formatted into charts or graphs that paint a picture of what is happening within the organization.
Storage of data, especially in such vast amounts as is contained within the healthcare industry, should not be a passive or secondary thought, but a cognizant choice with clear understanding that demands for securing, accessing and accumulating of data is ongoing and growing. The design of a data warehouse lends itself to storing massive amounts of information, protecting the records within yet permitting authorized personnel to access them, and not isolating data so as not to be easily reached.
Once information is stored, protected and accessible, the software should them be able to utilize it and produce a visual representation, which clearly defines what is happening inside the given parameters. This is known as data mining and it helps to detect problematic areas in the establishment. When areas of concern are specified, plans for changes can then be made.
This is when a completely new set of tools can be implemented, but they require human insight and action. Analysis, brainstorming, benchmarks and follow-ups are tools that factor into quality improvements. Each has its own time and order, but many will be repeated as a way fine-tuning problematic issues and areas. This pattern of revisiting steps, including having updated statistics to work from, will keep you on the cutting edge of development and improvement, because nothing stays on the same path and implemented changes may not be beneficial.
Quality improvement tools are an arsenal that is available to you to not only see the big picture, but also all the small pictures that make up the big one. Being efficient and effective in the evolution of progress within a healthcare organization takes ownership of the right tools and the knowledge of how to utilize them. This will provide the unbiased data showing troubled areas and thus help predict when efforts should be placed.