It’s 2018, and rarely will you encounter a hospital or health system whose leaders are not concerned with the quality of care that is being provided within their organization. Considered rare just 15 years ago, there is a new cadre of quality-focused healthcare professionals and administrators emerging, armed with a variety of clinical know-how, business acumen, interpersonal skills, and operational execution abilities. They are now present in all areas and levels of healthcare systems, eventually reporting up to a Chief Quality Officer, a new role rapidly gaining relevance in the ever-changing health landscape.
Quality was always considered a significant step in traditionally manufacturing industries, with multiple teams responsible for quality checks throughout the product lifecycle chain. However, it is only in the last few decades that quality has permeated into the service industry, and much more recently into healthcare. The acceleration of quality’s importance has been spurred by financial means, namely, that healthcare payors are aiming to reduce the exorbitant, and growing, costs of delivering care by shifting to value-based care. Value-based care is the concept of paying healthcare providers based on measured health outcomes as compared to the cost of delivering those outcomes, rather than reimbursing based on volume of care provided, as has been customary in the predominantly fee-for-service model of the last century.
The conversation around the relationship between outcomes and reimbursement naturally leads to the topic of quality, as high-quality has become synonymous with good outcomes. But what does it actually mean to be a high-quality provider of healthcare, and how can a healthcare organization obtain this? That’s exactly where the Chief Quality Officer comes in, and is responsible for defining what that means for the specific organization, based on its size, setup, culture, and goals.
The term ‘high quality’ can encompass quite a range of existing areas/functions within the organization, including patient safety, data collection and reporting, physician reimbursement, and continuous improvement systems, among others. Ultimately, the CQO needs to galvanize the support of all care providers within the system to align around a commitment to quality and create a culture of continuous improvement.
CQOs can come from a variety of backgrounds, but as they sit at the interface of many different teams, these individuals need to be able to harness skills from all disciplines to drive quality initiatives. A clinical background can help when dealing with physicians, an administrative background can be useful with non-medical staff, and a combination of business acumen and tech-savvy is absolutely necessary for executives and IT. But most importantly, CQOs need to be exceptionally passionate and dedicated to their mission, while having a high degree of emotional intelligence, especially as it relates to interpersonal relations and adverse events.
CQOs matter to any healthcare organization, whether it already has quality-related protocols enabled and distributed throughout the organization, or whether the shift to transparency is in its early development stages. The CQO acts as a publicly visible representation of the values their role embodies, as well as an executive sponsor for the people, processes, and technology making accountability within the system possible. It’s no surprise then why leading healthcare organizations already have entire teams devoted to quality improvement, with operationally-minded CQOs spearheading these efforts as a core of the long-term business strategy.