Quality Improvement

The public health field is a dynamic environment with health departments having to navigate emerging public health threats while dealing with budget cuts and increasing political pressures. Quality improvement (QI) has been introduced to, and embraced by, the field of public health as a means to achieve efficiencies and improve quality of services to improve overall community health. 

Quality Improvement (QI) in public health is the use of a deliberate and defined improvement process, such as Plan-Do-Study-Act,1 which is focused on activities that are responsive to community needs and improving population health. It refers to a continuous and ongoing effort to achieve measurable improvements in the efficiency, effectiveness, performance, accountability, outcomes, and other indicators of quality in services or processes that achieve equity and improve the health of the community.2 NACCHO offers the following resources for integrating QI into local public health practice. 

[1] Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) is an iterative, four-stage problem solving model used for gaining learning and knowledge for the continual improvement of a product, service, or process.

[2] Riley, W., Moran, J., Corso, L., Beitsch, L., Bialek, R., and Cofsky, A. Defining Quality Improvement in Public Health. J Public Health Management Practice 2010; 16(1)5-7.

Organizational culture is the embodiment of the values, principles, norms, and attitudes that collectively contribute to its daily operations. It is the essence of how work is accomplished and matures over several years. Transforming culture to embrace QI when minimal knowledge or experience exists requires strong commitment and deliberate management of change over time. The following resources will assist in assessing and growing a QI culture. 

Roadmap to a Culture of Quality (QI Roadmap)

NACCHO’s QI Roadmap provides guidance on six foundational elements of a QI culture and how to progress through six phases of QI maturity. Each phase presents common organizational characteristics to diagnose the current culture and transition strategies and resources for advancing to the next phase. Click here to access the QI Roadmap

NACCHO's Organizational Culture of Quality Self-Assessment Tool (QI SAT)

The NACCHO QI SAT aligns with the QI Roadmap and allows for an in-depth and objective assessment of QI culture across all six foundational elements and 20 sub-elements of a QI culture. It offers a scoring summary sheet which results in a numerical score for each foundational element and one overall score for the agency. Based on your score, the SAT provides a menu of transition strategies to advance to the next phase. NACCHO also offers a facilitator guide and canned PowerPoint to assist with administering the tool. Click here to access the QI SAT and supplemental resources

An agency QI plan provides and establishes accountability around formalizing the QI program. It outlines the agency QI vision, establishes the QI program governance structure, specifies QI processes and methods for selecting and implementing projects, and provides an action plan for how to grow the QI culture. QI assessment results should be used to select the priorities in the QI plan. An adopted QI plan should be monitored for progress, evaluated at least annually, and should align with other agency plans including to maintain focus on overall strategy and performance.

Example QI Plans and Templates

Below are example local health department (LHD) QI plans, each of which were informed by QI assessment results and have been reviewed for quality NACCHO staff. QI plans from accredited agencies are indicated with an “*”.

All staff, from executive leaders to frontline staff, should continuously improve their work. Empowering employees to engage in QI requires access to QI training and resources. NACCHO has developed some presentations and compiled other resources for LHDs to use when the need for training arises. Listed below are a collection of QI trainings available for different levels of health department staff. 

For more resources around QI trainings, visit the QI Roadmap Resources section and sort by the foundational element, “Employee Empowerment.” 

As an agency gains more expertise and experience with QI projects, QI should spread to all departments, programs, and services. The following resources provide guidance on selecting and implementing QI projects. 

QI Project Prioritization and Selection

The agency QI Committee or QI leaders should create criteria and processes for selecting a QI project to ensure selection of projects with the greatest potential for impact. Potential projects should also be screened to determine whether they are appropriate for a formal QI process. The following resources provide guidance implementing these processes: 

There are a variety of QI processes and tools that can be used to implement QI projects. It is important to define for staff the QI processes that will be used and to cultivate expertise around selecting and implementing the most appropriate methods. Some common QI methods include Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA), Kaizen, Lean, and Six Sigma. There are also several QI tools and templates that can be used to implement different phases of these QI methods (e.g. flowcharts, cause-and-effect diagram, control charts). The following resources may assist with implementing QI projects: