How to collect data to improve quality

Picture of Suzie Creighton

Published on 31 March 2021 at 10:42

by Suzie Creighton

Collect data - 01

The collection of data will be a really important part of your improvement project. Data can help you with many aspects of your QI projects, particularly with measuring progress and results of your changes. With judicious preparation, systems and tools, you will be all set to collect data you need for your projects.


What is good data and how to get it?

You should use various data to monitor how your QI project is performing. Experts recommend using a suite of measures to track improvement work, including data collection for: outcomes, processes and balancing measures.  Both qualitative and quantitative data are critical for measuring, evaluating and guiding improvement and are a key part of the QI data analysis process.

In the article ‘Using data for improvement’ the authors state that: ‘One of the key challenges faced by healthcare teams across the globe is being able to access data that is routinely collected, in order to use it for improvement. Large volumes of data are collected in healthcare, but often little is available to staff or service users in a timescale or in a form that allows it to be useful for improvement.’  They go on to suggest that a way to work around this is that the team create a simple form of measurement on the unit, ward or clinic which they can easily update.

The same article states that the gold standard for using data for improvement is: ‘Time series analysis, using small amounts of data collected and displayed frequently.’

However, the question you may be asking yourself is, how to get good data - and easily?

The best answer is often to use/access data that already exists. Look for data sources that are already regularly collecting the data you need. Assuming this data is accessible it will be quicker, simpler and more reliable than you having to start data collection from scratch. 


Once you have your data you'll need somewhere to store, visualise and analyse it. Life QI is specifically designed to collect, store, analyse and question QI data. This type of solution can help streamline working processes and provides you with the tools to save time accessing and interpreting your data while simplifying QI data analysis.



What data do I need?

We can define improvement data as ‘information, especially facts and numbers, collected to be examined and considered and used to help decision-making.’ The data collection for quality improvement will need to be both quantitative and qualitative. ‘Data are used to make judgements, to answer questions, and to monitor and support improvement in healthcare. We can use the same data in different ways, depending on what we want to know or learn.’

In the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) document ‘Quality Improvement Project Management,’ the authors recommend QI project participants to ‘Collect data that’s ‘good enough’ to drive improvement, not ‘exquisitely precise’ or ‘official’ data that costs a lot and delays your need to test and act. Use sampling to avoid survey fatigue and accelerate learning. E.g., send 10 different staff members a three-question survey every week rather than all staff members a survey every month'. This is sensible advice to bear in mind when you are setting parameters for data collection for improvement.



How to access the data you need

When you chose your improvement project team, the IHI recommend that you take on a Technical Leader. In their article ‘Science of Improvement: Forming the Team’ the authors describe a technical expert as ‘someone who knows the subject intimately and who understands the processes of care’. An expert with these qualities can help the team identify what data they need to measure. He can also support them in designing simple and effective measurement methods, as well as providing guidance on how to collect data, as well as how to interpret and display it.

A solution such as Life QI also makes Quality Improvement data entry easier. It helps to avoid the need for your team to get bogged down in manual or duplicate reporting. It can help streamline working processes and save time, while speeding up the processes associated with QI data collection, making it easy to create change ideas while minimising duplicate reporting.



Methods to collect data

East London NHS Foundation Trust (ELFT) has a vibrant QI programme, and is adept at getting good data. We would highly recommend reading their article ‘How easy is it to collect data during improvement work?’ to help you with your data collection.

In this article, the authors state: ‘at some point in every QI project, teams will have to collect data locally. This may be the same data available from the above platforms, because they may need a sub-set during small-scale testing and for a host of other reasons. On the other hand, there might be some measures that teams are just not collecting data on locally and they need to start collecting. This can be daunting because of the potential complexity of designing the measure and the burden of collecting the data.’

The IHI talk about simple data collection, you can access further information if you are a member of their programme. They recommend simple data collection planning as a process which ensures that the data you collect for QI are useful and reliable, without being time-consuming or too costly to obtain.

They talk through the benefits of simple data collection:

‘Simple data collection planning has a variety of benefits:


  • It helps to ensure that the data gathered contain real information, useful to the improvement effort;
  • It prevents errors that commonly occur in the data collection process;
  • And it saves time and money that you would spend on repeated or failed attempts to collect useful data.’


How to use data to support improvement?

As we have explored in this article, the collection of quality improvement data doesn't have to be an arduous task, and it is incredible important in guiding and evidencing the impact of your changes to demonstrate they are delivering improvements.

In their article ‘How easy is it to collect data during improvement work?’ ELFT gives some great examples of how they use data to support improvement, when describing one of the QI projects. ‘The diversity of the project team has helped them explore innovative ways of achieving their aim. They recently started a small-scale test of collecting patient feedback using buckets. On a daily basis they would have a patient experience question written on a board and three buckets placed underneath the board for denoting happy, neutral or sad responses to the question. Service users attending the phlebotomy clinic are encouraged to place their clinic queue ticket in the bucket that represents their response as they leave their appointment.’

There are many ways to share data and results with your team so that people can learn from one another. Online tools like Life QI will help make it easy for you share the results and data. And this can help other people engage and learn from each other while simplifying the sharing.




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