The development of a formal quality improvement (QI) plan provides a roadmap for laboratories to strategically design their quality improvement activities. These plans are usually developed by laboratory leadership and should echo the overall quality improvement priorities of their healthcare organization. A successful QI plan should provide a clear framework for all operational and patient-facing quality improvement activities. The development of a robust QI plan benefits a laboratory for years to come as the evaluation of the prior years’ quality improvement activities inform future initiatives. In order for a QI plan to be successful, there are three vital components laboratory leaders should consider: providing clear guidance on QI goals; a relevant, timely focus; and being systematic and process-driven.
Formal QI plans should provide guidance for delivering safe, high-quality care. Patients should be at the core of all performance improvement initiatives. If goals under consideration do not ultimately serve the best interests of our patients, they should not be included in a quality improvement plan. A well thought out QI plan should provide guidance for the laboratory to drive the generation of quality improvement projects. The guidance set by the QI plan should establish clear goals which reinforce the delivery of excellent care and patient safety. Expectations and outcomes desired by leadership should be defined as part of the plan. If a major focus of a laboratory’s QI plan is improving turnaround time, this should be clearly defined (which laboratory sections should be impacted, what is the timeframe, what degree of improvement is expected, etc.), clearly laying out the expectations of leadership.
In order to be successful, the focus of a QI plan should include relevant and timely goals. A relevant focus is one that takes into account the needs of our patients, our clinical colleagues, and our organization. Once again, labs should set their focus on high-quality care and patient safety as well as the strategic needs of their healthcare organization and community. When developing goals within a QI plan, leaders should include a strategy to utilize reliable data to assess current state performance. Data should also be used in concert with organizational needs to prioritize goals and projects.
An effective QI plan should be systematic and process-driven. A systematic approach to development includes the thorough planning, execution and ongoing evaluation of the plan. Without an intentional design and strategic follow up, a QI plan is vulnerable to becoming stagnant or unraveling. Time should be allocated to revisit the plan at regular intervals, making changes if necessary. QI plans should focus on improving key processes within the laboratory in order to gain the most significant results. Understanding the processes within the laboratory and how they affect both the internal environment and the environment outside the walls of the laboratory is crucial. This understanding cannot be reached without the involvement of front line experts (the people actually doing the work) and the consumers of the laboratory’s services – including patients.