Sustainability in QI - the time has come!

Frances Mortimer's picture

Health systems are in constant need of improvement - and in some cases total redesign. Populations are ageing and changing and technologies continue to evolve and expand; meanwhile, services are creaking within structures and processes inherited from an earlier time. 

Today’s health professionals are rightly expected not just to provide exemplary individual care, but to contribute to systematically improving the services within which that care is delivered. 

But what a waste if you work hard to improve a system and yet fail to notice that it relies on environmental and social resources that cannot easily be counted with a £ sign! You may optimise individual steps in a pathway but miss opportunities to promote wellbeing, reduce healthcare demand, empower patients or prevent ecological damage. 

The Royal College of Physicians has recognised sustainability as a domain of quality in healthcare and has said that ‘healthcare should be considered not only in terms of what can be delivered to an individual today, but also to the population in general and the patients of the future.’ I agree. And it seems to me that if sustainability is part of quality, then it should also be an integral part of quality improvement, or QI.

In 2 papers published in the Future Healthcare Journal this week, my co-authors and i put forward a simple approach for incorporating sustainability into mainstream QI methodologies, which we have called the ‘SusQI’ framework. 

We believe that including sustainability and resource stewardship in QI provides a practical way for health professionals to respond to ethical challenges such as climate change and social inequalities. But we have also found that it can bring immediate benefits to the QI process itself, including new motivation and energy for change, highlighting wastes and opportunities otherwise overlooked, and directing projects systematically towards the highest value improvements.

If you are involved in teaching, leading or contributing to quality improvement, please have a look at the SusQI framework and think whether you could apply it within your work. You may also find useful these

You may also find useful these learning resources for SusQI.

Dr. Frances Mortimer
Medical Director, Centre for Sustainable Healthcare

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