When the Public Health Accreditation Board formed in 2007, its role was to oversee the voluntary national accreditation process for public health departments. Part of that process is assuring public health organizations use quality improvement methods.
To refine their own processes and meet national accreditation requirements, many public health departments employ a process called quality improvement (QI). In public health, QI includes the use of a deliberate and defined process that includes continuous efforts to achieve measurable improvements in the quality of public health services. It is being used throughout the field but there is no supervising agency to sustain this positive trend.
And until recently, opportunities to share information about QI—helpful strategies or initiatives that worked—were limited to a few small conferences.
To address this need, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) launched an effort develop a quality improvement knowledge base that would allow public health organizations to explore QI methods and applications with their peers throughout the U.S.
Creating an Online Community for Practitioners to Share Quality Improvement Strategies
In 2012, RWJF engaged RTI to build a free online resource to develop a community of practice for public health practitioners involved in QI. The resulting online community—known as the Public Health Quality Improvement Exchange (PHQIX)—gives public health practitioners a space to come together and learn from each other’s QI efforts. Ultimately, PHQIX aims to help sustain national QI efforts.
When developing the site, our scientists and developers created a taxonomy to make the vast breadth of public health knowledge available on PHQIX searchable. We reviewed more than 400 QI reports and used word frequency analysis and user research to identify key themes and valuable resources for practitioners implementing QI practices.
A Virtual Landscape for the Exchange of Ideas
Membership in PHQIX is free and open to public health professionals, researchers, and students. Members submit written documentation of QI initiatives for review by a member of the PHQIX panel of experts assembled by RTI before they are published on the site. QI initiatives submitted by public health departments across the country span a range of topics—from boosting immunization rates to improving customer satisfaction.
To date, the site houses a database of 170 QI initiatives implemented by public health departments across the United States, search functions that enable users to find initiatives on specific topics, and QI tools and resources relevant to health department and community needs. PHQIX also provides a forum for dialogue among the site’s 2000 users and has more than 30 active conversations within the past 6 months.
An Active Community of Public Health Leaders and Practitioners
The PHQIX project team keeps site members engaged and up to date on public health quality improvement news, resources, and recent site activity through a weekly digest and monthly e-newsletter.
Topics featured in PHQIX communications include, for example, departmental efforts to increase treatment for people with latent tuberculosis, streamlining the process for mobile food unit inspections, and improving the process for following up on animal bites. Published initiatives offer both ideas for new QI projects and helpful guidance from those who have implemented similar projects.
The PHQIX team also promotes engagement through monthly drawings for site members who participate in the community forum and submit or update QI initiatives.
As PHQIX gains recognition as a valuable resource, activity continues to grow organically. Results from an evaluation led by our PHQIX team indicated that a majority of users agree that PHQIX has improved QI capacity within their health department and that PHQIX has facilitated the development of a QI community of practice through communication, collaboration, or knowledge exchange. The website continues to grow, as public health professionals across the country submit information on QI initiatives—making PHQIX an increasingly valuable resource for the public health community.