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Author Bio

Josh Ferguson

Josh is a nurse practitioner who has over 20 years of nursing experience. Most recently, Josh joined Health Catalyst as a Clinical Outcomes Improvement Director. In this role, he helps healthcare organizations achieve their improvement goals. Prior to joining Health Catalyst, Josh worked at Intermountain Healthcare in a respiratory and medical intensive care unit as a nurse practitioner. During this time, he also worked closely with multiple clinical program leads and clinicians to develop and implement systemwide applications, protocols, and order sets to reduce variation in care. You will also, on occasion, find him lecturing to nurse practitioner students at the University of Utah. 

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Josh Ferguson

Reducing Unwanted Variation in Healthcare Clears the Way for Outcomes Improvement

According to statistician W. Edwards Deming, “Uncontrolled variation is the enemy of quality.” The statement is particularly true of outcomes improvement in healthcare, where variation threatens quality across processes and outcomes. To improve outcomes, health systems must recognize where and how inconsistency impacts their outcomes and reduce unwanted variation.
There are three key steps to reducing unwanted variation:

Remove obstacles to success on a communitywide level.
Maintain open lines of communication and share lessons learned.
Decrease the magnitude of variation.

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The Who, What, and How of Health Outcome Measures

Even though thousands of health outcome measures have the potential to impact the work we do every day, how well do we really understand them? In this article, we take a close look at the definitions, origins, and characteristics of health outcome measures. We break down the financial relevance of certain measures, the relationship between outcome measures and ACOs, and which measures impede, rather than enhance, a typical healthcare system. We review the role of an enterprise data warehouse and analytics, and we touch on the future of health outcome measures, all in an effort to provide deeper insight into some of the mechanics behind outcomes improvement.

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How to Measure Health Outcomes that Matter to Everyone

To measure health outcomes that matter to everyone, it’s important to ask several questions before starting out:

How do regulatory requirements differ from outcomes improvement?
Do the measurements align with organizational goals and values?
Are the measurements worth the resources required to document them?
Will the metrics actually be applied to outcomes improvement?
Who are the beneficiaries of the outcomes improvement initiative?

The answers to these questions help save time and resources, sustain and expand the improvement effort, refine the list of measures to those that truly improve outcomes, and most of all, help avoid the outcomes measures graveyard.

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