Application of quality-improvement methods in a community practice: the Sandhills Pediatrics Asthma Initiative

N C Med J. May-Jun 2005;66(3):218-20.


This case study demonstrates the use of quality improvement methods to improve asthma care in a busy community practice. The practice used disease-management strategies, such as population identification, self-management education, and performance measurement and feedback. The practice then applied several practice-based quality improvement methods, such as PDSA cycles, to improve care. From 1998 to 2003, process measures, such as staging of asthmatics, use of long-term control medications, use of peak flow meters and spacers, and use of action plans, improved. There was also a substantial decrease in emergency department use and hospitalizations among patients with asthma. Although there have been several studies demonstrating the efficacy of disease management strategies, most lack generalizability to community practices. Often, interventions are so intensive and cumbersome, that they are unlikely to be replicated in primary care setting. Researchers have been unable to determine which components of the interventions are most effective and replicable. Furthermore, many studies of disease management strategies enroll participants who lack the co-morbidities seen in community practice. There are also few studies of disadvantaged populations that face other barriers to care, such as lack of transportation, poor access to specialists, and medical illiteracy. In this case study, there were several unique factors that enabled the practice to improve care for this population. The AccessCare case manager who worked with the practice not only provided data and feedback to the practice team, but also served as an improvement "coach," often pushing the team and facilitating many of the improvement efforts. AccessCare's approach is in contrast to many of the commercial disease management companies' "carve out" models that do not sufficiently involve providers or practices in their interventions. The other necessary ingredient for success in this project was organizational leadership and support. The leaders of the practice saw beyond the usual metrics of patient visit counts and relative value units (RVUs) to embrace the concept of population health: the notion that practices are not only responsible for providing acute, episodic care in the office, but also for improving health outcomes in the community in which they serve. Other important factors included ensuring a basic agreement among providers on the need for improvement and frequent communication about the goals of the project. Although the champions of the project tried to minimize formal meeting time, there was frequent informal communication between team members. In the future, there is a need to develop other approaches to stimulate these endeavors in community practices, such as "pay for performance" programs, continuing education credit, and tying maintenance of board certification to quality improvement initiatives.

MeSH terms

  • Asthma / therapy*
  • Child
  • Chronic Disease
  • Disease Management*
  • Humans
  • North Carolina
  • Organizational Case Studies
  • Pediatrics / standards*
  • Primary Health Care / standards*
  • Rural Health Services / standards*
  • Total Quality Management / methods*