Public health practitioners are increasingly using quality improvement (QI) methods and tools to improve agency performance and individual programs. Professionals already working in the field are learning how to apply these concepts through various professional development trainings and technical assistance offered by National Network of Public Health Institutes (NNPHI), the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO), the National Association of City and County Health Officials (NACCHO), the National Network of Public Health Institutes (NNPHI) and the Public Health Accredidation Board (PHAB) among others. To improve the future public health workforce, exposure to public health practice–based QI should also be provided to students during their formal graduate public health education. QI is incorporated into the Association of Schools and Programs in Public Health MPH Core Competency Model and the Core Competencies for Public Health Professionals.
The Public Health Quality Improvement Exchange (PHQIX) is a useful tool for teaching students about the application of QI concepts. PHQIX is an online community designed to be a communication hub for public health professionals interested in learning and sharing information about QI in public health. The purpose of PHQIX is to disseminate information learned through QI initiatives and facilitate increased use of QI in public health practice. PHQIX includes an online database of QI efforts conducted by public health departments across the country. The search and query functions enable users to find projects and tools relevant to their needs. I have used PHQIX in teaching QI to MPH and DrPH students. It is an ideal online platform for “on-the-ground training” that significantly supplements course content.
PHQIX is a resource that helps teach the real-world application of public health QI. In my courses, I have incorporated PHQIX at various times during the semester. Once students have learned a particular theory or QI method, tool, or approach, they are then assigned to review its application in PHQIX. For example, students analyze aim statements of QI projects; assess how and when a QI project engages its customers and stakeholders; and evaluate stages of Plan, Do, Study, Act cycles. Furthermore, students compare and contrast how QI tools have been used in different projects to advance their understanding of the connection between QI and public health department accreditation. Ultimately, students gain an improved understanding of how to assess success for a QI project beyond the project reaching its intended aim. Equally important, they learn from the lessons learned by the project’s developers. Students are encouraged to engage with project authors via the PHQIX online community for additional questions and insights into the project. My students have commented that learning the history of public health QI and using the appropriate methods and tools combined with real-world application via PHQIX is an asset of the course. Students have also noted that they have referred their colleagues to PHQIX. Beyond a course specifically in public health QI, PHQIX could easily be incorporated into a variety of other graduate or undergraduate public health courses to demonstrate improvement processes conducted in the field of public health administration.
PHQIX, created by RTI International and funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, launched in September 2012. To date, there are 1674 registered users of PHQIX who are helping achieve the project goal of sustaining national QI efforts by providing public health practitioners with a means for obtaining knowledge about their colleagues’ experience. From my experience, public health students also greatly benefit from learning about first-hand QI experiences from those in the field.
Kusuma Madamala, PhD, MPH
Public Health Systems Consultant
Adjunct Assistant Professor/DrPH Faculty—University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health
Adjunct Assistant Professor—Medical College of Wisconsin