In this brief review, written from the perspective of a physician-leader who has fostered the development of comprehensive quality improvement efforts at two academic medical centers, I review the need for improvement, some conceptual barriers that must be overcome, the goals of a comprehensive quality improvement (QI) effort, some of the results we have obtained, and some observations on how to develop a culture of continuous improvement in an academic medical center. The mandate for quality improvement is clear; current healthcare is wasteful and error-prone, leading to excessive morbidity and mortality and unsustainably high costs. Successful quality improvement requires the abandonment of two paradigms: the craft model of medical practice and the notion that many forms of harm to patients are not preventable. I will describe how dramatic improvement has been achieved in reducing, by up to 10-fold, rates of central line infections, ventilator-associated pneumonias, peritonitis in peritoneal dialysis patients, and mortality due to cardiac arrest in hospital. I will describe as well how these methods can improve access to out-patient clinics dramatically and enhance the reliability and safety of hand-offs between covering physicians. To develop and maintain systematic quality improvement in all phases of medical care we must articulate a culture in which: everyone working at the medical center makes improvements every day; front-line staff, who know best how the work is done, are empowered to improve the processes of care; and multidisciplinary teams create the protocols that reduce variation that is due to physician preference, leaving only the variation required by the individual needs of patients. I will review as well the crucial elements of education of trainees and faculty members needed to guide and sustain a culture of quality. Finally, I will add some observations on how oversight boards and medical center leaders can help create systematic quality improvement in their medical centers.
Keywords: Quality improvement; education; training.