Quality improvement programs strengthen hospitals and health systems. Using frameworks, such as high reliability or Just Culture, health care organizations are improving safety and quality. They’re also increasing training, technical assistance, and the use of process improvement tools, such as Plan-Do-Study-Act or Lean/Six Sigma, and collaborating with partners in QI programs.

Reporting and sharing data, and listening to and involving patients are essential to a hospital’s QI efforts. Many hospitals have made organizational changes to improve performance on important measures and build a quality infrastructure.

At Carilion Clinic, the health system I lead, we’ve created a department of Clinical Advancement and Patient Safety to oversee quality initiatives, and developed dashboards to visualize data so we can quickly see if we’re doing a good job. Making data “actionable” has led to process improvements that have reduced hospital-acquired infections to below the national benchmark.

Across the country, hospital-acquired conditions and health care-associated infections have significantly decreased over the past decade. Another positive trend: The percentage of patients reporting a highly-favorable experience with their hospital increased significantly, which is important because patient experience has been linked to improved health outcomes and better quality.

Hospitals and health systems continue to be challenged by the ever-increasing number of quality measures that must be reported. Teams also encounter barriers to reporting quality data, such as confusing measure definitions, technology limitations and technical difficulties. In addition, the administrative burden of quality reporting can shift resources away from patients and QI.

The AHA encourages policymakers and the field to think strategically to align quality improvement, measures, and policies. A recently released TrendWatch, “Aligning Efforts to Improve Quality,” recommends advancing a strategic vision that addresses the reality around complexity, burden and lack of alignment while supporting flexibility, innovation and transparency. The AHA’s recommendations include implementing measures that matter, making quality report cards more meaningful and accurate, and implementing more effective and up-to-date Conditions of Participation and standards.

These changes will help hospitals and health systems achieve the gold standard of hospital quality.