Context: Continuous monitoring of key laboratory indicators of quality by hundreds of laboratories in a standardized measurement program affords an opportunity to document the influence of longitudinal tracking on performance improvement by participants focused on that outcome.
Objective: To describe the results of the first 2 years of participation in a unique continuous performance assessment program for pathology and laboratory medicine.
Design: Participants in any of 6 modules in the 1999 and 2000 College of American Pathologists (CAP) Q-Tracks program collected data according to defined methods and sampling intervals on standardized input forms. Data were submitted quarterly to CAP for statistical analysis. Interinstitutional comparison reports returned in 6 weeks provided each laboratory with its performance profile of key indicators and its percentile ranking compared with all participants in that quarter. This also included longitudinal comparisons of performance during previous cumulative quarters. Control charts graphically displayed data with flags identifying performance points that were out of statistical control.
Setting: Hospital-based laboratories in the United States (98%), Canada, and Australia.
Participants: Voluntary subscriber laboratories in the CAP Q-Tracks performance measurement program: roughly 70% from hospitals of 300 occupied beds or fewer, 65% from private, nonprofit institutions, slightly more than half located in cities, one third from teaching hospitals, and 20% with pathology residency training programs.
Main outcome measures: Each module measured several major and additional minor quality indicators and unbenchmarked individualized data for internal use.
Results: Participants in 4 of 6 Q-Tracks continuous monitors demonstrated statistically significant performance improvement trends in 1999 and 2000, which were most marked for laboratories that continued participation throughout both years. These monitors were wristband patient identification, laboratory specimen acceptability, blood product wastage, and intraoperative frozen section consultation.
Conclusions: Key continuous indicators chosen on the basis of a decade's experience in the CAP Q-Probes quality improvement program are useful measurement and benchmarking tools for laboratories to improve performance. In general, measures in which there is a broad range of demonstrable performance initially are most optimal for subsequent improvement using continuous monitoring. These studies have shown that quality is not static, but rather is a moving benchmark of performance as seen in the redefinition of benchmarks over time by participants in the first 2 years of the CAP Q-Tracks program.