Quality assurance is important in many industries. If a business does not implement key quality assurance principles in their organization, it can lead to lost business or a poor reputation. In the healthcare industry, quality assurance is even more important because it can affect patients’ lives.
At a base level, quality assurance keeps patients who are in the healthcare system or who use healthcare-related products safe. When implemented well and executed correctly, a quality assurance program in healthcare can go beyond merely keeping people safe and actually improve outcomes for patients.
We will lay out five guiding principles of quality assurance in healthcare that organizations should follow. The implementation of these principles will look different in different types and sizes of healthcare organizations, but the idea behind each of them will serve organizations well, no matter what they do in the healthcare industry.
1. Align Internally
Aligning internally so your organization’s commitment to quality assurance is front and center comes down to three basic principles; clear strategic goals, communication, and transparency. Setting quality assurance goals comes from the top of an organization and must be clearly defined so the entire organization knows what is expected.
The next step in internal alignment is clear and open communication. The goals must be communicated from the top-down and open and honest feedback should come back up the chain. As the organization strives for quality assurance, frequent updates, constant improvement, and collaboration between departments is key.
Finally, transparency is so important in alignment. Quality assurance requires an organization-wide commitment to the process. Each area of the organization must be transparent in its quality assurance processes so they can be held accountable and also hold other areas accountable as the whole team works to achieve high-quality results.
2. Track the Data and Learn from It
Quality assurance is not something you can do a little here and a little there. It is not something that you can just set and forget either. Quality assurance is a process that you implement, then develop, then fine-tune over time to get better and better. One of the best ways to continually improve your quality assurance in the healthcare industry is by tracking data and learning from it.
The healthcare industry produces mountains of data and, in 2020, it is easier than ever to collect, process, and learn from this data. The rise of cloud computing has allowed all types of healthcare organizations, big and small, to harness the computing power needed to use analytics to make data-driven decisions and improvements. These improvements will ultimately lead to a higher quality of care and better outcomes for patients.
3. Institute Clear and Formal Processes
Quality assurance is process-driven. This process needs to be clearly spelled out and repeatable. It must start from the very beginning of whatever healthcare process your organization uses and go right through to the end product or service.
A great example of this is the quality assurance process of IQ OQ PQ. As Dickson explains here, IQ OQ PQ principles guide the quality assurance process in heavily regulated industries. It is a three-step process for qualifying new machinery or other products to ensure they can do the job correctly and effectively.
It starts with installation qualification (IQ), where the product in question is qualified to make sure it is the product that is needed and can do the job intended. Operational qualification (OQ) runs the equipment under simulated conditions to ensure it works as part of the overall process.
Lastly, there is performance qualification (PQ) where the boundaries of the equipment’s capabilities are tested to verify how conditions affect the final product. Once all three of these qualifications are met, only then is the new product ready to be used.
4. Invest in Employee Training
People are a very important part of the quality assurance process. It is up to them to qualify the steps along the way and make sure they are being executed every day. That means from onboarding until the day an employee leaves the company, it is crucial they are trained in the ways of quality assurance.
Employee training for quality assurance is an ongoing process in which standards are constantly being improved and updated and ongoing training supports those improvements. And it is not just the hard skills related to quality assurance that is important. Training employees on soft skills will help improve other areas critical to quality assurance such as communication and accountability.
5. Create a Culture of Empowerment
It takes everyone pulling on the rope in the same direction to put a great quality assurance plan in place, and we do mean everyone. From the top of the C-suite to the summer interns and everywhere in between, it is critical everyone plays a role in the quality assurance process.
When employees are empowered to have a voice in this process, the process will work better and be more effective. Employees have to know they can speak up when they see the procedures not being followed, see products that are not going out correctly, or make suggestions to help improve the processes.
When everyone in the healthcare organization is empowered to be a key player in quality assurance, the whole process doesn’t just get better it gets much easier too. When everyone is on the same page and working for a common quality goal, that is when you see quality assurance greatness.
The healthcare industry is incredibly diverse, so the actual areas in which each company implements quality assurance and how they go about it will look very different. But the guiding principles remain the same. Each organization must figure out how to align internally, track data and learn from it, institute clear and formal processes, invest in employee training, and create a culture of empowerment.
For healthcare organizations that do this, the quality of the products and services offered should go up dramatically. It should help the organization’s bottom line and make the entire environment more efficient. Most importantly though, it will keep people safe and help them get healthier easier and more often. And that is what it is truly all about.