Background: Continuous quality improvement (CQI) techniques have been used most frequently in hospital operations such as pharmaceutical ordering, patient admitting, and billing of insurers, and less often to analyze and improve processes that are close to the clinical interaction of physicians and their patients. This paper describes a project in which CQI was implemented in a family practice setting to improve continuity of care.
Methods: A CQI study team was assembled in response to patients' complaints about not being able to see their regular physician providers when they wanted. Following CQI methods, the performance of the practice in terms of provider continuity was measured. Two "customer" groups were surveyed: physician faculty members were surveyed to assess their attitudes about continuity, and patients were surveyed about their preferences for provider continuity and convenience factors.
Results: Process improvements were selected in the critical pathways that influence provider continuity. One year after implementation of selected process improvements, repeat chart audit showed that provider continuity levels had improved from .45 to .74, a 64% increase from 1 year earlier.
Conclusions: The project's main accomplishment was to establish the practicality of using CQI methods in a primary care setting to identify a quality issue of value to both providers and patients, in this case, continuity of provider care, and to identify processes that linked the performance of health care delivery procedures with patient expectations.