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Quality – What It Means to Health Information Technology


By Beth Dituro, Former Program Director, Pinnacle Center for Professional Development

Hot off the press: House subcommittee approves bill to defund the Agency for Health Research and Quality (AHRQ).  Will this have any effect on Health Information Technology (HIT) implementations?

In healthcare, the word “quality” can be such a nebulous term.  We all THINK we know what it means, but chances are that not everyone is working with the same definition.  The best way to ensure that all team members have a common understanding and appreciation for the scope and importance of quality within their organization, is to provide basic health IT (HIT) education that addresses the topic of quality within the different fields that comprise HIT.

Health IT team members, depending on their role, may assume that quality refers to some sort of “best practice.”  Others, especially IT staff, may think of quality as it relates to a minimum number of errors or downtime in systems.  Clinicians will think of quality as better outcomes, while hospital administrators may focus on patient access and safety.

In fact, all of this is true:  According to the National Association for Healthcare Quality, healthcare quality professionals bring together data analytics, performance improvement, risk management, patient safety and much more.  But an important responsibility of healthcare quality professionals and departments is to report certain metrics and a host of reports to various quality agencies – this is where it gets confusing, complicated, and quite challenging.

In the beginning, there was AHRQ, which was set up by the Health and Human Services Agency to “produce evidence to make healthcare safer, higher quality, more accessible, equitable, and affordable.”  Now, there are numerous healthcare quality programs, standards and watchdog agencies with similar but conflicting aims and requirements, such as NQS, CMS, HQA, NCQA and the JC.  And there are more…the list of agencies and requirements is growing.

Due to these complexities of focus, definition, and reporting requirements, and due to the ever-changing and evolving nature of the term and context, “quality” has necessarily become a specialty within the healthcare industry.  The measurement of quality is pervasive and has become extremely reliant on HIT systems, (although not all reports can be submitted electronically).  It is essential that all healthcare IT team members have a solid understanding of this concept in order to design and configure their HIT systems effectively to meet all quality compliance standards.

In the meantime, healthcare quality professionals will continue to monitor the status of the AHRQ and the ever-changing quality reporting requirements as the situation unfolds.  The Joint Commission is suspending their “Top Performer” program due to the fact that quality measures are “all over the place.”  The College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME) has urged CMS to streamline meaningful use and quality measures.

The bottom line is that it’s essential for HIT professionals to keep current with continuing education, to keep up with the ever-changing regulations, trends, and technology emerging in the HIT field.

Courses that prepare the Health IT Workforce are offered at Pinnacle Center for Professional Development (PCPD)