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Principles that help improve healthcare processes

by LLB Reporter
11th Apr 16 12:35 pm

Introduction

The need for improvement in processes and systems within the healthcare industry have been around for quite some time, never more so than in the current marketplace. Changes in all areas of healthcare are occurring constantly, and the need to respond to them effectively remains an ongoing priority. So what are these changes? They include; rapid technological evolution, changes of policies and guidelines, and clinical care on the front line. Changes do not go unnoticed in boardrooms either. Financial constraints on the NHS maintain a constant appearance in the national news channels, often announcing more cuts and saving drives. Naturally, these make the work of change even harder – therefore, having a strong and agile framework for improvement is crucial so that it can ensure the safe evolution and adaptation of the healthcare landscape. There are several principles that contribute to improvement within healthcare (and other) organisations:

Quality improvement

Quality improvement is a principle with a simple but powerful approach that is central to the health of an organisation itself. It is about process management and effective communication. The healthcare system is based on interlinked processes, and successful connections between them are key. Therefore, it can be said that quality assurance is the catalyst within organisations and that quality improvement is the driving principle.

Quality measurement

Quality measurement is key. Data and statistics enable the envisioning of the bigger picture in a concise and informative format, and enable prompt decision-making of large scale challenges and issues. The best way to measure what is working and what is not, is by measuring it. Data collection within clinical context is second nature now, so there is an abundance of it to use. Data can be produced and used for measurement for systems and processes as well. A combination of chart screening, risk assessment forms, reminder/recall systems, and office systems should generate insightful data on how systems and processes are performing, and create insights on how to improve them. The most important factor of course is for the correct data to be disseminated to the right targets.

Management of care systems and processes

It took some time to shift the focus of care management and blame from physicians and nurses to where it should be – systems and processes. This is not to say that clinicians shouldn’t be involved in the management of care; in fact, the reverse is the case. Frontline staff should be involved in the entire process, but from the prospective of providing expert opinion and feedback on what are the best ways to improve processes. Not as agents for blame.

Active education intervention

Mistakes happen from time to time both on the ward and in the boardroom. Each mistake will be addressed differently, but one common key benefit should be extracted from all kinds of mistakes – learning. There is no better teacher than making mistakes. Mistakes can and should lead to improvements. Over the last few years, the healthcare sector has been strongly encouraged to embrace a culture of openness and transparency in addition to lessons learned, and the effort for improvement cannot be denied. Changes and human factors however will keep coming in our way in one form or another. Therefore, minimising opportunities for wrongdoings by providing adequate training in various disciplines should be prioritised. Lessons learned must continue to be embedded in education at all levels, and education for improvement should not rely only on lessons learned, but on anticipation also. A key element in quality assurance and improvement is to anticipate risks and improvement needs. In other words, identifying where failures due to lack of training can occur, and investing in training for prevention. This is a good example of the link between quality assurance and quality improvement.

Leadership, support, mentorship and resources

It cannot be emphasised enough how important leadership is in every type of organisation. And how a leader’s character and aspirations ought to reflect corporate culture and organisational performance. Other elements of quality improvement are support and mentorship. Various sources, including a recent quality assurance report from the Nursing and Midwifery Council highlights the insufficiency of quality support and mentorship for nurses and midwives in education – as well as in practice to some degree. Resources, unfortunately, are very heavily dependent on funding, talent acquisition and retention. Leadership will be always there, whether good or not so good, but the consistency of resources such as support and mentorship can vary. And variations in these two resources can be measured by quality.

Summary

Adhering and promoting the above principles has the immense potential to stimulate quality improvement in healthcare. And, as with any other organisational success, quality improvement owes a great deal to anticipation and persistence.

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