Continuous Improvement in Healthcare

Doubtlessly, medical science is growing at an exponential rate in an era where technological advancements are at an all-time high. However, when meeting patient demands, assuring patient safety, system efficiency, and quality improvement, the healthcare system falls short of expectations.
Today, the world has only witnessed a medical environment in which physicians mostly depend on the ancient, olden practices such as employing pen-paper, memory recollection, and some extra measures to optimize patient care. However, the medical environment needs so much more. As a result, the significance of purposeful rethinking for reliable, cost-effective, and long-term quality enhancement in the healthcare system cannot get overstated.

History of Continuous Improvement in Healthcare

Over the last 17 years, a central objective on healthcare quality, patient safety, and quality improvement has arisen. W. Edwards Deming founded this idea with his “Total Quality Management” (TQM) methodology, which his 1986 classic “Out of the Crisis” initially detailed.

Essentially, TQM is an enterprise-wide approach that must be started by the senior leadership team (SLT). The system should be implemented through teamwork, defined processes, and systems thinking while also reforming the organization to establish a continuous improvement culture.

However, the system must implement a method for distinguishing beneficial outcomes from negative outcomes. This generally includes defining key performance attributes that will be used to measure how beneficial any change in processes are and generally follows this method:

  • Employing careful review and analysis to devise a new approach.
  • Redesigning the approach with the process.
  • Evaluating performance to determine if the change in the process was beneficial.

Alternative quality improvement methodologies, such as the Baldrige Excellence Framework, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) series of standards, Zero Defects, and the Toyota Production System (TPS), have become the lean approach emergent after TQM.

The majority of these approaches, frameworks, and standards were developed or improved in manufacturing environments. They have been modified and tailored to function in healthcare settings where most work gets driven by service to patients and transactions with patients and their families.

Importance of Continuous Improvement in Healthcare

Continuous improvement is a systematic, long-term method to improve the quality of patient treatment and outcome. Building a continuous improvement culture is not a one-time job or a quick cure; it is a lifelong effort that requires dedication, investment, and perseverance.

The purpose of continuous improvement is to achieve ‘operational excellence,’ which entails building a working style that improves care quality and safety by implementing ongoing improvement strategies on a routine basis.

Frontline employees lead and manage continuous improvement, which is strengthened by specialized, ongoing training and backed by the entire company. Typically, it begins with the board of directors and the chief executive then extends to the finance and HR departments and the IT team.

Ultimately, continuous improvement is a transition in culture toward a fresh outlook of becoming a self-analytical, self-critical, learning organization. This encourages frontline personnel to discover the fundamental causes of system and process issues then develop solutions.

Healthcare company’s can focus on Lean Culture.  They can hire Six Sigma Certified professionals and Change Management Specialists to guide their organizations towards “Lean Thinking”. 

How Continuous Improvement Addresses Healthcare Concerns

Because introducing new ways of working can be difficult, uncomfortable, and even dangerous, companies make significant attempts to engage with employees before making changes. If done correctly, the most enthused employees can instantly become change catalysts and ambassadors among their peers. However, if done incorrectly, inadequate employee engagement will lead the campaign to stall or fail. When implemented correctly, here is how continuous improvement can address current healthcare concerns.

Creating a New End-to-End Management System

Continuous improvement necessitates a new management system that replaces the old project-based mindset. This change implements more sustainable behaviors, tools, and procedures that assist managers in guiding frontline workers in recognizing and resolving problems.

As one might expect, changes in culture and behavior are not always easy to achieve. Skills like problem-solving technique use and dissemination must be taught and encouraged through mentorship. Thus, managers must establish the discipline to keep this work going for months or years, and they must recognize that this new method of working is now the norm.

Engaging and Empowering Patients

What matters to the patient should always be at the forefront of continuous improvement efforts. Patients can at the very least assist in identifying areas for quality improvement activities, testing potential delivery concepts, and assessing the outcomes.

Some organizations allow patients and caregivers to make suggestions for changes and even to attend daily ward huddles to discuss progress and performance. However, the viability of this will be determined by the healthcare context and overall engagement.

It was discovered that hospital staff first found direct patient participation unsettling and raised worries that discussions about performance, problems, and progress should be kept private. This issue reflects concerns that patients or caregivers would misinterpret conversations or believe that they should get kept out of trouble. However, none of the organizations had encountered any issues. Patients were glad to see changes being measured and discussed.

Ultimately, the most significant benefit of fostering patient engagement may be that it keeps employees focused on the ultimate goal of continuous improvement.

Supporting Management Systems with Technology

Technology can help facilitate continuous improvement, but businesses have highlighted the significance of improving culture and management systems beforehand. Technology should never get used as a band-aid for underlying problems. If companies start with technology as a solution, they are more likely to overlook the problem.

Understanding the existing condition, which entails making better use of data, is the starting step for change. Then, analytics and real-time monitoring can assist in discovering root causes and expedite the identification of the most serious issues.

It can be groundbreaking when staff gets a hold of this data as they can use it to improve the quality of care. Hence, several firms have combined their most precise information into digital dashboards to boost visibility and reporting.

Go Slower to Go Fast

Companies should not rush the adoption of continuous improvement. It takes time and perseverance to change culture, especially in firms that have seen many reform programs come and go. Change fatigue, confusion about what continuous improvement truly entails, and a lack of capability and resources are just a few of the obstacles to overcome.

Organizations must ultimately take the time to organize and deliver training at a suitable pace.


Working steadily to embed change, review progress, and adapt as required can mean a multi-year journey before staff and departments get fully trained. However laborious and challenging, implementing continuous improvement efforts, particularly in healthcare environments, remains necessary for companies to fulfill.