Evolution and outcomes of a quality improvement program

Johan Thor*, Bo Herrlin, Karin Wittlöv, John Øvretveit, Mats Brommels

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to examine the outcomes and evolution over a five-year period of a Swedish university hospital quality improvement program in light of enduring uncertainty regarding the effectiveness of such programs in healthcare and how best to evaluate it. Design/methodology/approach: The paper takes the form of a case study, using data collected as part of the program, including quality indicators from clinical improvement projects and participants' program evaluations. Findings: Overall, 58 percent of the program's projects (39/67) demonstrated success. A greater proportion of projects led by female doctors demonstrated success (91 percent, n =11) than projects led by male doctors (51 percent, n = 55). Facilitators at the hospital continuously adapted the improvement methods to the local context. A lack of dedicated time for improvement efforts was the participants' biggest difficulty. The dominant benefits included an increased ability to see the "bigger picture" and the improvements achieved for patients and employees. Research limitations/implications: Quality measurement, which is important for conducting and evaluating improvement efforts, was weak with limited reliability. Nevertheless, the present study adds evidence about the effectiveness of healthcare improvement programs. Gender differences in improvement team leadership merit further study. Improvement program evaluation should assess the extent to which improvement methods are locally adapted and applied. Originality/value: This case study reports the outcomes of all improvement projects undertaken in one healthcare organization over a five-year period and provides in-depth insight into an improvement program's changeable nature.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)312-327
Number of pages16
JournalInternational Journal of Health Care Quality Assurance
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Case studies
  • Health services
  • Leadership
  • Quality improvement
  • Sweden
  • Total quality management


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