Benchmarking process: Select targets for change

Baseline data provide foundation for next stage

[Editor’s note: This is the second in a three-part series on the Catholic Health Association of the United States’ (CHA) performance improvement program, "Living Our Promises, Acting on Faith." This installment will describe how the baseline data informed the selection of a specific area targeted for performance improvement. The final article will describe the practical application of the information gathered through the benchmarking process.]

Collection of baseline data was completed in spring 2000; the findings did not hold any major surprises, recalls Julie Jones, MA, director of resource development for the CHA. "The truth is, there wasn’t anything surprising, because our goal was to get a snapshot of where the ministry was and collect data we had never collected before, which would in turn fuel ongoing improvement efforts," she says.

Even the process of gathering the data, which was necessary to develop a measurement system, led to different types of conversations in the ministry, Jones notes.

"For example, our ethical and religious directive No. 2 says that Catholic health care should be marked by mutual respect among caregivers," she explains. (See Healthcare Benchmarks and Quality Improvement, October 2002, p. 43.) "In our focus groups, we would ask, What data do you have that demonstrate this’? The response might mention patient satisfaction surveys or employee satisfaction surveys, so we’d cull all of this information together across the ministry. As they say, you pay attention to what you measure."

How did the baseline data inform the next steps? "They did so on a number of levels," Jones reports. "For example, when we collected the data, we promised the participants that they would get comparative data reports. So, if you were in a rural area with a 15-bed facility, you’d get a report back both on your data and that of comparative facilities. This could then be used by their QA teams to focus on a [performance improvement] project for the next year."

Every one of the 239 participating facilities received a report. In addition, the systems received aggregate data on how the facilities within that system had answered, so that they could determine areas to target and work on across facilities.

"Then, at the national level, we organized a collaborative benchmarking project that we would ultimately share with all of the members," Jones notes. "The baseline helped us identify topics of interest, which in turn would give the ministry ideas on topics it wanted studied further."

The ultimate decision in terms of selecting a performance improvement topic was reached through a member survey, Jones says.

"We asked those members that had participated in the data-collection process in which area would it be most helpful for them to have successful practices identified; in other words, what did we want to improve on together?" she adds. "Employee satisfaction with involvement in decision making’ rose to the top in terms of members saying this was an area about which they would really like to learn from one another."

This was, of course, the goal of the process: convening a collaborative through which members could share information and ideas.

The first step was to share the information with the collaborative benchmarking steering committee. Among the participating facilities were urban and rural, large and small facilities from across the country, as well as one community hospital partner of a Catholic health care system.

"The partners would then share beyond their group and inform the larger ministry," Jones says. "At that point, individual facilities might take on their own performance improvement projects."

Need More Information?

For more information, contact:

  • The Catholic Health Association of the United States, 4455 Woodson Road, St. Louis, MO 63134-3797. Telephone: (314) 427-2500. Fax: (314) 427-0029. Web site: