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What Is Quality Improvement in Healthcare?

April 14, 2024

Staff huddles, streamlined recordkeeping, brighter lighting — all contribute to healthcare quality improvement (QI). Nearly a third of healthcare organizations that launch QI programs see major improvements in patient care, according to a review in Implementation Science. QI can lead to fewer medication errors, a reduction in hospital-acquired infections, and greater overall efficiency. 

Understanding what quality improvement in health care is and how to implement it calls for a comprehensive understanding of healthcare systems and strategies. A Master of Health Administration (MHA) can prepare individuals to drive change that supports patient safety and leads to better patient outcomes. 

Definition of Quality Measurement and Improvement

Quality measurement and improvement helps streamline healthcare systems. It involves gathering and analyzing data to identify areas for improvement.

QI programs track progress to achieve measurable improvements in healthcare delivery. Tracking methods include the following:

  • Data collection. QI programs collect relevant data to assess and monitor healthcare processes, outcomes, and performance. This can involve gathering information such as patient health conditions, treatments, and outcomes; medication administration and surgical procedures; patient feedback on experiences with healthcare services; and quality indicators, such as medication error rates and patient safety incidents.
  • Performance metrics. QI programs define specific performance metrics or indicators that help measure the current state of healthcare delivery. These metrics can include infection rates, readmission rates, medication errors, and wait times, as well as other metrics that can indicate the quality of care being delivered.
  • Regular monitoring. QI programs establish systems for regular monitoring performance metrics that involve ongoing data collection, analysis, and reporting. This allows healthcare providers and organizations to track progress, identify trends, and highlight areas of concern that require attention and improvement.
  • Feedback and reporting. QI programs provide feedback and reports to healthcare teams and administrators based on the collected data. This feedback can deliver valuable insights to inform decision-making.
  • Continuous improvement. QI programs foster a culture of continuous improvement, in which healthcare teams regularly review data, identify opportunities for enhancement, and implement targeted interventions. This process involves an ongoing cycle of analyzing data, implementing improvements, and assessing the effectiveness of those changes to ensure progress and better patient care.

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Quality Improvement in Different Healthcare Settings

Quality improvement in health care is essential to addressing challenges unique to each environment. It also helps providers build and tailor strategies that drive improvements in patient care. 


Hospitals are complex organizations that greatly benefit from QI initiatives.

For example, QI programs help hospitals standardize medication administration protocols. This can reduce errors and adverse drug events, ensuring patient safety. Regular hand hygiene audits and meetings in which healthcare professionals review protocols and share feedback can improve compliance and lessen the risk of hospital-acquired infections.

Improving Care Delivery Through Lean Principles

By implementing lean principles, QI programs can help hospitals improve patient flow. Lean principles are management strategies and practices aimed at maximizing value and minimizing waste. 

In health care, this may involve the following: 

  • Eliminating bottlenecks. An emergency department may identify inadequate staffing levels that create triage bottlenecks and adjust staff schedules accordingly.
  • Improving coordination among healthcare staff. Staff may have daily huddles to discuss patient care, share updates, and identify issues. As a result, teams improve communication and collaboration. 
  • Streamlining processes. To simplify documentation, a hospital may use a digitized system that helps avoid overlap in clinician tasks and patient recordkeeping.

Lean QI measures can do the following: 

  • Reduce patient wait times
  • Offer patients smoother transitions between care areas
  • Ensure timely patient access to tests and procedures

Primary Care Settings

QI initiatives in primary health care include improving health care in rural areas, where residents often lack access to it.

QI programs support preventive care, a key component of primary care. They also provide clear processes and reminders to offer and administer vaccinations and screenings based on recommended schedules and guidelines.

This focus can help organizations detect health conditions early and prevent illnesses.

Patient-Centered Medical Home Models

QI programs empower real differences in primary care, even in settings with limited resources. One promising approach is patient-centered medical home models. These models foster teamwork among healthcare providers, ensuring coordination across aspects of the patient care journey.

By prioritizing comprehensive and personalized care, patient-centered medical home models help ensure that patients don’t feel lost in the shuffle, especially in rural and underserved areas, where they can face challenges accessing health care.  

Long-Term Care Settings

In long-term care facilities, QI programs can greatly impact resident care. Typically, programs focus on improving resident safety and quality of life, as well as adherence to regulatory standards. These initiatives address specific issues that long-term care facilities face.

For example, fall prevention is a serious concern in long-term care settings. QI programs identify and address fall risks in the following ways: 

  • Making changes to the physical environment (installing handrails, improving lighting, removing tripping hazards)
  • Providing staff training
  • Using assistive devices

Additionally, when residents move between different healthcare settings or change medication regimens, the risk of medication-related errors can increase.

To help ensure residents’ safety, QI programs tackle this issue through medication reconciliation, reviewing and comparing medication lists to ensure accuracy, and then addressing any discrepancies.

Additionally, QI programs in long-term care facilities prioritize electronic health records (EHRs) and care planning tools. These technologies help facilities maintain accurate information about patients’ diagnoses, medications, and treatment plans. They also help team members share information. 

Drive Transformative Change in Health Care 

Quality improvement in health care is a systematic, data-driven approach that enables organizations ranging from hospitals to long-term care facilities to continuously improve their healthcare processes, outcomes, and patient experiences.

To gain the skills to implement QI programs across care settings, individuals need the right education. Explore how Tulane University’s Online MHA program equips healthcare professionals with the tools to drive transformative changes in patient care.

Advance Your Public Health Career with an MHA Program

Pursue Your Degree Online From Tulane University
Find Out More

Recommended Readings

Community Health Promotion in Rural Areas

Population Health Management: A Healthcare Administration Perspective

Ethics in Health Care: Improving Patient Outcomes


Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Topic: Quality Improvement

BMJ, “Quality Improvement Into Practice”

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, Quality Measurement and Quality Improvement

ClearPoint Strategy, “8 Examples of Quality Improvement in Healthcare & Hospitals”

Enter, Understanding Importance of Quality Improvement in Healthcare

Excel Medical, The Importance Of Quality Improvement in Patient Care

Implementation Science, “The Effectiveness of Continuous Quality Improvement for Developing Professional Practice and Improving Health Care Outcomes: A Systematic Review”