9.3 Measuring and Improving Quality

Now that we have discussed the various ways that quality health care is defined, let’s discuss how quality care is measured, evaluated, and improved.

Utilization Review

Thinking back to value-based reimbursement models discussed in the “Health Care Economics” chapter, recall how health care agencies are reimbursed from Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurance based on their quality performance measures. A utilization review is an investigation of health care services performed by doctors, nurses, and other health care team members to ensure money is not wasted covering unnecessary or inefficient expenditures for proper treatment. Utilization review also allows organizations to objectively measure how their health care services and resources are being used to best meet their patients’ needs. Information from patients’ medical records is analyzed, along with patient demographics, to evaluate resource allocation, efficiency, and quality of health promotion initiatives.[1] See Figure 9.3[2] for an illustration of utilization review related to costs.


Photo showing closeup of hand holding pen over expense sheet, with calculator to side
Figure 9.3 Utilization Review

Using Informatics to Promote Quality

Utilization review relies on the collection of meaningful data from health records to determine if quality metrics are being met. Informatics refers to using information and technology to communicate, manage knowledge, mitigate error, and support decision-making.[3] Informatics allows members of the health care team to share, store, and analyze health-related information. Nurses have an important role in informatics. Nursing informatics is the science and practice of integrating nursing knowledge with information and communication technologies to promote the health of people, families, and communities worldwide.[4] It is a nursing specialty with certification available from the ANCC. See Figure 9.4[5] for an artistic rendition of informatics.


Illustration showing human figure sitting at desk with laptop, a large globe of earth floating above
Figure 9.4 Informatics

These are several benefits of using informatics in health care[6]:

  • Improvement of Patient Safety: Informatics allows for up-to-date information sharing by both the patient and members of the health care team. Using informatics can help to reduce the occurrence of medication errors, as well as monitor patient side effects and overall health status. For example, barcode scanning has reduced medication errors by ensuring the correct dose is administered to the correct patient at the correct time.
  • Reduction of Delays in Care: Some health care informatics systems allow for direct communication between health care team members and patients. The ability to ask and answer questions without needing to schedule an office appointment promotes the ability for care to be delivered efficiently in a cost-effective manner.
  • Reduction of Waste: The use of informatics to share information between care team members reduces waste associated with duplication of tests or exams when more than one provider is on the care team. Additionally, patients can request their records be shared with health providers from other health organizations, which reduces duplication and unnecessary spending across the nation.
  • Promotion of Patient-Centered Care: Many informatics systems have “patient portal” options where the patient and/or designated personnel are able to be active participants in the care planning and health promotion processes. Informatics offers an inclusive environment for patients to communicate and share directly with their care team regardless of physical location and timing.
  • Support of Quality Improvement: The continuous process of quality improvement requires the ability to collect and analyze data in a systematic and reliable manner. Using informatics provides members of the health care team a secure place to store data, as well as the ability to review in a timely manner.

Quality Indicators

The National Database of Nursing Quality Indicators (NDNQI) was developed as a national nursing database used to evaluate quality in nursing care. This database was purchased by Press Ganey in 2014. In collaboration with the American Nursing Association (ANA), the original NDNQI database established nurse-sensitive quality indicators such as these[7]:

  • Nursing Care Hours Per Patient Day
  • Hospital-Acquired Pressure Injuries
  • RN Job Satisfaction

Nurses use quality indicators to support practice changes with evidence directly related to improved patient outcomes.

Read about current quality measures promoting clinical excellence at the Press Ganey website.

Quality Improvement

Quality Improvement (QI) is a systematic process using measurable data to improve health care services and the overall health status of patients.[8] QI is one of the competencies of the Quality and Safety Education (QSEN) project and defined as, “using data to monitor the outcomes of care processes and using improvement methods to design and test changes to continuously improve the quality and safety of health care systems.”[9] 

The overall goal of the QI process is to improve the quality and safety of health care. The process of quality improvement is very similar to the Nursing Process, but its purpose is to answer these three main questions:

  • What are we trying to accomplish?
  • How will we know if a change is an improvement?
  • What changes can we make that will result in an improvement?

See Figure 9.5[10] for an illustration of the Quality Improvement Process.


Image depicting a model for improvement, with a circle split into four parts and textual labels
Figure 9.5 Quality Improvement Process

To answer these questions, QI is a continuous process in which a project is planned, interventions are implemented, data is collected, results are studied, and outcomes are evaluated. The process is repeated after additional planning. During the QI process, four key steps are used to evaluate current patient care and determine if changes are needed. These components are referred to as Plan, Do, Study, and Act:

  • Plan: The first step in the QI process is to identify what you will be testing or focusing on and what will be measured. Similar to the Nursing Process where subjective and objective data are collected, the nurse determines what data will be needed during the QI process. The nurse also determines a timeline for the QI project, such as one year, including a specific framework for when data is collected and when it will be reviewed. For example, fall rates will decrease 10% in one year.
  • Do: After the plan is determined, the nurse works with a health care team to implement the project and ensure data collection occurs.
  • Study: During this phase, the nurse works with the health care team to review and analyze the data that was collected and determine if the outcomes were achieved or not.
  • Act: In the fourth step of the QI process, the team discusses the outcomes. In this step the team identifies barriers, strengths, and weaknesses and then decides if additional changes are needed in nursing practice. The QI process is continuous, so the QI team uses outcome findings to continue the process of Plan, Do, Study, and Act to ensure safe, quality patient care.

See Figure 9.6[11] for an illustration comparing the QI process to the Nursing Process.

Image showing comparison of the Q I Process and the Nursing Process, with textual labels
Figure 9.6 Comparison of the QI Process and the Nursing Process (Source: Amy Tyznik, MPTC)


It is important to note that quality improvement is different from nursing research. QI evaluates processes in place and determines if changes are needed, whereas the goal of research is to identify new innovations in nursing practice.[12]

  1. Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Utilization Management by Third Parties, Gray, B. H., & Field, M. J., (Eds.). (1989). Controlling costs and changing patient care? The role of utilization management. National Academies Press. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK235000
  2. Analyzing_Financial_Data_(5099605109).jpg” by Dave Dugdale is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
  3. QSEN Institute. (n.d.). QSEN competencies: Quality improvement (QI). https://qsen.org/competencies/pre-licensure-ksas/#quality_improvement
  4. AMIA. (n.d.). Informatics: Research and practice. https://amia.org/about-amia/why-informatics/informatics-research-and-practice
  5. informatics-1322241_1920.jpg” by mariojsantos at Pixabay.com is licensed under CC0
  6. Otokiti, A. (2019). Using informatics to improve healthcare quality. International Journal of Health Care Qual Assurance, 32(2), 425-430. https://doi.org/10.1108/ijhcqa-03-2018-0062
  7. Montalvo, I. (2007). The National Database of Nursing Quality Indicators (NDNQI). The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing, 12(3). https://ojin.nursingworld.org/MainMenuCategories/ANAMarketplace/ANAPeriodicals/OJIN/TableofContents/Volume122007/No3Sept07/NursingQualityIndicators.aspx
  8. Study.com. (n.d.). What is economics? - Definition, history, timeline & importance [Video]. https://study.com/academy/lesson/what-is-economics-definition-history-timeline-importance.html
  9. QSEN Institute. (n.d.). QSEN competencies: Quality improvement (QI). https://qsen.org/competencies/pre-licensure-ksas/#quality_improvement
  10. Model_for_Improvement.jpg” by Cliffnorman is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0
  11. “Comparison_QI Process_Nursing Process.jpg” by Amy Tyznik, MPTC for Open RN is licensed under CC BY 4.0
  12. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. (2013, May). Module 4. Approaches to quality improvement. Practice facilitation handbook. https://www.ahrq.gov/ncepcr/tools/pf-handbook/mod4.html


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