Background: Studies focusing on the impact of improvement efforts on the organization have yielded mixed results, which has increased interest in comparing the processes of improvement used. Data for a convenience sample of 92 quality improvement (QI) projects in 32 organizations were gathered from interviews and self-reported surveys from 1998 to 2000. A self-administered questionnaire was developed to measure 70 characteristics of improvement projects.
Results: Most (80%) of the improvement projects were conducted by hospitals or clinics affiliated with hospitals. The projects took an average of 13 months from the team's first meeting to the end of the pilot study. Project teams met 14 times (approximately once a month) and spent 1.5 hours per meeting. Some projects did not measure the impact, others did not intend to have a specific impact, and still others measured but did not achieve the planned impact.
Discussion: Patients and employees may be benefitting from improvement projects, but organizations may not be leveraging these improvements to reduce cost of delivery or increase market share. Considerable variation in the projects' impact raises the question of the need to improve the improvement methods. Generalization from this study should be made with caution, as data were based on a self-selected convenience sample of organizations. Furthermore, respondents did not complete all items, and missing information may affect the conclusions. The data on current improvement practices that are provided in this study can serve as baseline data against which rapid improvement efforts can be judged.