Applying statistical methods to quality improvement in health and social care

Guro Huby School of Health in Social Science, University of Edinburgh

A collaborative initiative between the University of Edinburgh (Dr Guro Huby and Dr Andrew Thompson), Scottish Government Joint Improvement Team (Dr Peter Knight) and NHS Education Scotland (Shona Cowan) to develop a postgraduate teaching module

Service redesign and quality improvement are increasing in importance for Scottish health and social care services, and this implies building capacity among staff to lead and contribute to service improvement initiatives. Training in statistical methods to understand variation in flow of patients through systems of care is a priority for NHS Education Scotland and partner organisations.

These methods have been developed in industry and applied to the improvement of linear production processes. Applying these methods in health and social care is more challenging, because “this is not about the production of widgets”. Care systems are anything but linear, and the product is people and their health, not objects. Nevertheless, applied appropriately these methods can be a powerful tool to map the function of health and social care systems, and to understand, patterns of patient flow through these systems with a view to ensurring that their journey is smooth and avoids unnecessary delays and bottlenecks.

The application of statistical methods in health and social care improvement is not only about the skills and understanding of the statistical techniques themselves, something which can be challenging for staff with little training in statistics. It is also about the appropriate way to apply these methods in complex situations, and to use the techniques and the analysis they produce, to facilitate communication and discussion among a range of health  and social care professionals and help them explore and improve the systems they operate.

This post graduate course, offered as CPD and as an elective for an MSc Programme in service improvement, taught health and social care staff statistical skills and their use in health and social care settings. It drew on the academic expertise within University of Edinburgh SPS, and also on the experience of staff in NHS organisations. It fostered collaboration between the Higher Education Sector and other public services in the development and application of advanced statistical methods.