The evolution of quality improvement philosophies in health care includes such models as MBO, Theory X, Theory Y, QA, QA&A, TQM, CQI, PI and the newest philosophy—QAPI.  Under the Affordable Care Act, Medicare and Medicaid certified nursing homes are required to have in operation a compliance and ethics program that is effective in preventing and detecting criminal, civil and administrative violations and in promoting quality care. With the deadline to have a plan in place by March 23, 2013, QAPI is an integral philosophy that will help ensure a systematic, comprehensive, data-driven approach to care.

The Affordable Care Act of 2010 requires nursing homes to have an acceptable QAPI plan within a year of the promulgation of a QAPI regulation and nursing homes in the United States will soon be required to develop QAPI plans.  QAPI is the merger of two complementary approaches to quality management, Quality Assurance (QA) and Performance Improvement (PI). Both involve seeking and using information, but they differ in key ways:

  • QA is a process of meeting quality standards and assuring that care reaches an acceptable level. Nursing homes typically set QA thresholds to comply with regulations. They may also create standards that go beyond regulations. QA is a reactive, retrospective effort to examine why a facility failed to meet certain standards. QA activities do improve quality, but efforts frequently end once the standard is met
  • PI (also called Quality Improvement – QI) is a pro-active and continuous study of processes with the intent to prevent or decrease the likelihood of problems by identifying areas of opportunity and testing new approaches to fix underlying causes of persistent/systemic problems. PI in nursing homes aims to improve processes

QA and PI combine to form QAPI, a comprehensive approach to ensuring high quality care. QAPI is a data-driven, proactive approach to improving the quality of life, care, and services in nursing homes. The activities of QAPI involve members at all levels of the organization to: identify opportunities for improvement; address gaps in systems or processes; develop and implement an improvement or corrective plan; and continuously monitor effectiveness of interventions.  QAPI is not entirely new. It uses the existing QA&A, or Quality Assessment and Assurance regulation and guidance as a foundation.

There are five elements of QAPI that are the strategic framework for developing, implementing, and sustaining QAPI.  The five elements are:

  • Element 1: Design and Scope
    • A QAPI program must be ongoing and comprehensive, dealing with the full range of services offered by the facility, including the full range of departments. When fully implemented, the program should address all systems of care and management practices, and should always include clinical care, quality of life, and resident choice. It aims for safety and high quality with all clinical interventions while emphasizing autonomy and choice in daily life for residents (or resident’s agents). It utilizes the best available evidence to define and measure goals. Nursing homes will have in place a written QAPI plan adhering to these principles.
  • Element 2: Governance and Leadership
    • The governing body and/or administration of the nursing home develops and leads a QAPI program that involves leadership working with input from facility staff, as well as from residents and their families and/or representatives. The governing body assures the QAPI program is adequately resourced to conduct its work. This includes designating one or more persons to be accountable for QAPI; developing leadership and facility-wide training on QAPI; and ensuring staff time, equipment, and technical training as needed for QAPI. They are responsible for establishing policies to sustain the QAPI program despite changes in personnel and turnover. The governing body and executive leadership are also responsible for setting priorities for the QAPI program and building on the principles identified in the design and scope. The governing body and executive leadership are also responsible for setting expectations around safety, quality, rights, choice, and respect by balancing both a culture of safety and a culture of resident-centered rights and choice. The governing body ensures that while staff are held accountable, there exists an atmosphere in which staff are encouraged to identify and report quality problems as well as opportunities for improvement.
  • Element 3: Feedback, Data Systems and Monitoring
    • The facility puts in place systems to monitor care and services, drawing data from multiple sources. Feedback systems actively incorporate input from staff, residents, families, and others as appropriate. This element includes using Performance Indicators to monitor a wide range of care processes and outcomes, and reviewing findings against benchmarks and/or targets the facility has established for performance. It also includes tracking, investigating, and monitoring Adverse Events that must be investigated every time they occur, and action plans implemented to prevent recurrences.
  • Element 4: Performance Improvement Projects (PIPs)
    • The facility conducts Performance Improvement Projects (PIPs) to examine and improve care or services in areas that are identified as needing attention. A PIP project typically is a concentrated effort on a particular problem in one area of the facility or facility wide; it involves gathering information systematically to clarify issues or problems, and intervening for improvements. PIPs are selected in areas important and meaningful for the specific type and scope of services unique to each facility.
  • Element 5: Systematic Analysis and Systemic Action
    • The facility uses a systematic approach to determine when in-depth analysis is needed to fully understand the problem, its causes, and implications of a change. The facility uses a thorough and highly organized/ structured approach to determine whether and how identified problems may be caused or exacerbated by the way care and services are organized or delivered. Additionally, facilities will be expected to develop policies and procedures and demonstrate proficiency in the use of Root Cause Analysis. Systemic Actions look comprehensively across all involved systems to prevent future events and promote sustained improvement. This element includes a focus on continual learning and continuous improvement.

The time is now to embrace the QAPI philosophy.  Watch for future entries in this blog series that offer more detail on these five elements as well as action steps that may assist in the road to QAPI.