Why does quality improvement matter?

Every health care system is built on a complex network of care processes and pathways. The quality of the care delivered by the system depends to a large extent on how well this network functions, and how well the people who provide and manage care work together.

The overall aim is simple: to provide high-quality care to patients and improve the health of our population. Yet, as every patient and professional can testify, for every process or pathway that works well, there is another that causes delay, wasted effort, frustration or even harm.

Quality improvement is about giving the people closest to issues affecting care quality the time, permission, skills and resources they need to solve them. It involves a systematic and coordinated approach to solving a problem using specific methods and tools with the aim of bringing about a measurable improvement.

Done well, quality improvement can deliver sustained improvements not only in the quality, experience, productivity and outcomes of care, but also in the lives of the people working in health care. For example, it can be used to improve patient access to their GP, streamline the management of hospital outpatient clinics, reduce falls in care homes, or tackle variations between providers in the way processes and activities are delivered.

An understanding of quality improvement is therefore important for anyone who delivers or manages care, as well as for people using care services and wondering how they could be improved. Through quality improvement there is the potential to create a health care service capable of ensuring ‘no needless deaths; no needless pain or suffering; no helplessness in those served or serving; no unwanted waiting; no waste; and no one left out’.

What is this guide about?

This guide offers an explanation of some popular quality improvement approaches and methods currently used in health care and their underlying principles. It also describes the factors that can help to make sure these approaches and methods improve quality of care processes, pathways and services.

There are other methods and interventions that can improve quality of care, such as education, regulation, incentives and legal action, but these are outside the scope of this guide.

Who is this guide for?

This guide is written for a general audience and will be most useful to those new to the field of quality improvement, or those wanting to be reminded of the key points. It is aimed primarily at people either working in or receiving health care, but is also relevant to social care and other public and third sector services, such as housing and education.