2011 Salary Survey Results

Quality improvement professionals are becoming more tech savvy

Electronic health records have quality pros working more closely with IT

As technology continues to evolve, so does its usage in the healthcare setting. Quality professionals are becoming more IT savvy as electronic health records become the new industry norm. Instead of flipping through paper charts and files, health information is searchable through electronic databases.

"For the last few years, the industry has turned more quantitative over qualitative," says Patrice Spath of Brown-Spath & Associates. "Quality management professionals are needing to have data management skills and IT skills, especially as the health records become computerized. Quality professionals are no longer using paper-based records as their data source — they're using EHRs. If they're not doing that now, they will be doing that in the future."

"The seasoned professionals learned to get teams together and do the qualitative things about changing the culture and making changes in an organization," Spath continues. "Now they're being challenged to be quantitative and to gather data and present in a way that makes sense and use statistical analysis techniques."

Although data retrieval is more streamlined with EHRs, long-time quality managers may not be as familiar with new technology. Managers have to learn how to use the new systems, how searches are set up and how to find data — and become more familiar with the IT department.

"The upside is that information can be more easily obtained in a more efficient manner — instead of pawing through paper records to look through data elements, you can do a query and find them electronically," Spath says. "In order to do that efficiently, quality professionals need to work closely with IT and health managers to extract that info. Quality managers will have to be more IT savvy, whereas in the past, everybody knew where to find patient data in a record. If it's in a server, how do you extract that data?"

While it may seem that retrieving data from an electronic record would be quicker than leafing through a paper file, there's more to gathering info than a click of a button. Systems must be implemented, data sets defined and collection measures translated to and implemented by the IT department. And organizations such as the National Quality Forum are beginning to set standards for electronic collection of quality measures.

Quality expanding to other departments

"The National Quality Forum has an initiative to translate quality measures to eMeasures — data that can be extracted from an electronic health record," Spath explains. "It's a very detailed process of dividing what the data measures are and how to find them in the record and those kinds of things. These are the things to become aware of — how to translate their measures they have to collect manually and how to collect them electronically. The quality measures have to be translated to IT to capture that information. Mapping the data elements into the computer system is not as simple as it appears to be."

According to Hospital Peer Review's 2011 Salary Survey, a growing number of quality professionals are newcomers to the field, with 44% reporting they have been in the field for 1-6 years. These new pros are entering during the transition and may have an advantage to learning the new technology. "These are younger people who may be more electronically oriented," Spath says.

Quality improvement and patient safety aren't just for the quality department anymore. More and more, other hospital departments are stepping up to implement new quality regulations "I think the emphasis has been placed on quality, patient safety and productivity, lean projects and such," Spath says. "Not all of those have been delegated to the quality department. The pressure to keep up with all of the demands with improving quality may be spread throughout the organization and not just the quality department."

Thinking strategically

For instance, nurses may be asked to take on the role of quality coordinators, or as patient advocates. "In the past, a lot of places may have said 'there's a new regulation, call the quality department and let them handle it,'" Spath says. "Now they think more strategically — where's the best place to send the new regulation and have it complied with? It may be more efficiently dealt with in another department — I think we're moving in that direction."

The survey also revealed an increasing number of quality professionals are working 50-60 hours in a week.

"The only thing I heard from people is, 'I have more work than I can humanly get done,'" Spath says. "I don't think the amount of hours has necessarily changed, but there's more and more to do and not enough hours to do it. I think that affects quality professionals — it's hard to make time for all the volunteer activities throughout the organization and go to professional meetings. It seems like no one has time to do the extracurriculars for professional development, like going to networking groups. I'm on a listserv for NAHQ and there's hardly any discussion on the listserv, like there's no time to bring up issues anymore. They have their nose to the grindstone so much and it's to the detriment of our profession to not do the networking like in the past."

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