The importance for chief quality officers in the healthcare setting

The healthcare industry is constantly subjected to change as policies and patient populations shift over time.

The ever-changing nature of the healthcare industry yields significant challenges for chief quality officers. This article includes the nature of the healthcare industry as being in constant flux; therefore, the importance of healthcare leaders in implementing these transformative changes may lead to improvements in patient quality.

The healthcare industry is routinely challenged to respond to external pressures with both policy and operational strategies. In focusing on quality, healthcare executives must consider changes on many different organizational fronts including patient safety, nursing performance, employee job satisfaction, and the overall quality of healthcare in a clinical setting. The growing need of healthcare organizations to navigate such a complex and ever-changing environment has increased the demand for effective chief quality officers.

In responding to the developing organizational needs, the integration of the chief quality officer role has also increased throughout the healthcare industry. First, as healthcare organizations implement the chief quality officer role at the highest position in the organizational hierarchy, this action establishes a strong tone and culture for quality at the highest level of power and authority. The significance of navigating changes and focusing on quality cannot be underemphasized as healthcare organizations are often challenged with taking corrective action when external conditions change rapidly. For example, chief quality officers are increasingly hiring nurse practitioners to meet patient demand for services. There is a shortage of trained physicians in meeting the expanding demand placed on the healthcare industry by the aging Baby Boomers generation; nurse practitioners can fill the service void by performing the same duties as a general family practitioner.

The chief quality officer is also uniquely trained and positioned in the organizational hierarchy to manage change on a variety of levels. First, the chief quality officer role is a symbol for the importance of quality that the organization is committing. Secondly, by having an executive position that focuses on quality, the organization is investing in quality at the highest levels of power and authority. It is also important to note that the chief quality officer role has introduced a new level of collaboration among healthcare executives. For example, without a chief quality officer, healthcare policies were influenced by executives without a focus on quality. The consequence of this approach is that quality is not emphasized and organizational leaders such as chief financial officers can carry too much weight in the decision-making process. If executives are overly focused on financial objectives, quality performances can decrease as resources are constrained that would otherwise advance higher quality metrics.

In closing, healthcare organizations can invest in quality outcomes by dedicating an executive position to quality performance. By formalizing an executive position for chief quality officer, a culture of organizational quality can begin. Establishing a chief quality officer communicates to all stakeholders that the healthcare provider is dedicated to advancing quality outcomes and adopting continuous change. The benefits of dedicating a professional towards managing quality outcomes include improved job satisfaction, better patient and employee safety, and improved population health. It is recommended that healthcare providers concerned with quality performances consider establishing a dedicated role for an executive-level quality officer that is empowered to develop policy.

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