Let CPHQ exam guide your continuing education

Test offers clues to quality management

In nursing school you learned how to care for patients. Now, as a home care quality manager, you may find yourself mumbling about how they never taught you how to interpret patient satisfaction data or implement process improvement strategies in nursing school.

When there is a knowledge gap, you may feel the need to return to the classroom to sharpen your skills as a quality manager in areas such as statistics and information management. The problem with going back to school is that many courses that apply to health care quality will be at the graduate-school level.

But before you commit to the life-altering process of GMATs, exams, and theses, remember that experience and mentoring can go a long way toward filling in those gaps.

One measure of competency in the health care quality field is the Certified Professional in Healthcare Quality (CPHQ) certification issued by the Glenview, IL-based National Association for Healthcare Quality’s Healthcare Quality Certification Board (HQCB).

"CPHQ is a combination of education and experience," says Janet L. Maronde, RN, BS, CPHQ, executive director of HQCB, which is based in San Gabriel, CA. "The breadth of their experience has a lot to do with their success on the CPHQ exam. One of the biggest difficulties in our field is that there is no set curriculum. Some colleges have quality management courses, but a lot are at the MBA level."

A look at the CPHQ exam can give home care quality managers a clear indication of where knowledge gaps exist and how much these gaps will hinder job success.

For example, the exam includes questions on planning; information management; education and training; performance measurement; and accreditation and licensure. (See CPHQ exam outline on pp. 61-62.)

The exam questions and their weights are determined based on a survey that asks health care quality professionals to describe their jobs. By using the questions as a barometer of job requirements, you can get a clear picture of what is expected of health care quality professionals. CPHQ accreditation is open to health care quality professionals from a variety of settings, including home care. The exam also provides evidence of the wide-ranging job skills health care quality professionals need to master.

"You need a person who is very objective and has the flexibility to maneuver around their organization," says Cathy Nielsen, RN, CPHQ, vice president of clinical services for In-Home Health in Minnetonka, MN. "They shouldn’t be pigeon-holed in just clinical practices. They need to focus on clinical issues, operational issues, and financial issues. They need that global picture of what’s going on in their organization."

One area Nielsen pointed out as being difficult for many nurse quality managers is data and information management. The CPHQ reflects the importance of this discipline by devoting 29% of the exam to it.

According to Maronde, health care professionals with a broader range of experience have done better on the exam than those who have focused on a specific responsibility.

"You have to have 4,160 hours in the health care quality field to be eligible to take the CPHQ exam," Maronde says. A person who has spent their entire 4,160 hours in risk management would have to spend a lot of time studying other areas because the majority of the exam is not risk management. The person would have to learn about quality management, CQI, and information management. For home care quality managers, the exam outline may indicate a need for education in information management, statistics, and data collection.

Home care quality managers can seek training from organizations such as the National Association of Healthcare Quality, which offers conferences and seminars three to four times per year, and the Malcolm Baldrige Quality Award, which offers quality management training courses.

"The National Association of Healthcare Quality puts on some very good programs, especially on data management," Nielsen says. "I think a nurse going into quality management has a leg up in that the nursing process is very similar to quality improvement. A lot of nurses find it easy to understand that whole process.

"For me, human resources and strategic planning was my weakest area. [Malcolm Baldrige Quality Award] training helped with that. It gave me a better understanding of what it all entails."