Prospects and problems of transferring quality-improvement methods from health care to social services: two case studies

Perm J. Spring 2014;18(2):38-42. doi: 10.7812/TPP/13-078.


Introduction: This study examines the use of quality-improvement (QI) methods in social services. Particularly the key aspects-generalizable knowledge, interprofessional teamwork, and measurements-are studied in projects from the QI program Forum for Values in Sweden.

Methods: This is a mixed-method case study. Two projects using standard QI methods and tools as used in health care were chosen as critical cases to highlight some problems and prospects with the use of QI in social services. The cases were analyzed through documented results and qualitative interviews with participants one year after the QI projects ended.

Results: The social service QI projects led to measurable improvements when they used standard methods and tools for QI in health care. One year after the projects, the improvements were either not continuously measured or not reported in any infrastructure for measurements. The study reveals that social services differ from health care regarding the availability and use of evidence, the role of professional expertise, and infrastructure for measurements.

Conclusions: We argue that QI methods as used in health care are applicable in social services and can lead to measurable improvements. The study gives valuable insights for QI, not only in social services but also in health care, on how to assess and sustain improvements when infrastructures for measurements are lacking. In addition, when one forms QI teams, the focus should be on functions instead of professions, and QI methods can be used to support implementation of evidence-based practice.

MeSH terms

  • Delivery of Health Care / standards*
  • Humans
  • Quality Assurance, Health Care / methods*
  • Quality Improvement*
  • Social Work / standards*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Sweden
  • Technology Transfer*