“Uncontrolled variation is the enemy of quality.” These are the words of renowned British physicist Edwards Deming. Many industries have long recognized that standardizing patient care processes reduces variations in quality and ultimately provides a starting point for improvement. As a healthcare provider, have you stopped to think about what you could be doing better? The first step of improving is to minimize variation by standardizing patient care. Think of how consistent and efficient companies like McDonald’s and Starbucks need to be to give the same customer experience around the world. Granted, healthcare is much more complex, but it also stands to gain the most when the quality of care is improved through standardization.

Standardization Patient Care for Quality Healthcare

At its most basic, standardization refers to aligning a process so that it conforms to an established standard of quality. The reference standard is established from evidence-based practices and can be improved through continuous data analysis. By conforming to literature-based standards and processes, healthcare practitioners can increase the quality of care and outcomes for their patients. Standardization of healthcare processes is a hot button topic because it is perceived as a nemesis to personalized care, but that is not necessarily true. With the right implementation, both standardized and personalized healthcare become complementary and mutually beneficial.

Defining Quality of Care: Quality Indices

The quality of care given to a patient is often hard to measure. The term can mean different things depending on who you ask:
  • Clinical definition: standardization is the degree to which healthcare services for individuals increase the likelihood of desired outcomes and are congruous with professional knowledge.
  • To patients: Patient satisfaction is a proxy measure of the quality of healthcare. The most common indicators of patient satisfaction include timeliness of care, staff attitudes, physical environment (comfort, cleanliness), privacy, and confidentiality, according to a Researchgate report.
  • To nurses and caregivers: Nurses rate quality of care according to the systems and policies in place and how they affect patient outcomes and safety. According to a 2012 study conducted in the US, only 29% of nurses thought that the quality of care in their institutions was excellent. In the study, nurses’ perceptions of quality healthcare were based on mortality and failure to rescue, the process of care, and patient experience.
Insurance and government healthcare payers are increasingly basing reimbursement on measurable indices such as readmission rates, mortality rates, successfully completed surgeries, and treatment efficacy. The common indicator here is that quality of care directly impacts patient experience and their outcomes. These are two of the important metrics that nurses think about when improving patient care. When thinking about improving the quality of care, it is easy to break from established norms and improvise. If problems arise, nurses are famous for improvising and it is considered a valuable skill. However, the literature supports that standardization is the best way to achieve direct and immediate improvement in the quality of care.

Standardization as the Key to Better Care and More Operational Efficiency

For some time, healthcare has been led by a vague mission: “improve quality of care.” Exactly what this means is open to interpretation, and it leads to a lot of unintended variation in healthcare processes from professional to professional and institution to institution. Reducing variation in healthcare is not so much about conforming to a standard “playbook” as about being thoughtful and consistent in care delivery. Clinical pathways, also known as care maps, critical pathways, or integrated care pathways are examples of standardization across the patient’s continuum of care.  They are based on patient diagnoses and provide predictable outcomes designed to be adaptable across disciplines and sectors to help improve the quality and continuity of care. CPWs have been in use in many hospitals across the world with varying levels of success. A collaborative study conducted by Cochrane showed CPWs resulted in reduced in-hospital complications, reduced hospital costs, and better documentation.

What Does Standardization Patient Care Mean for Nurses and Caregivers?

Nurses and caregivers interact directly with patients and thus form the tip of the healthcare spear. Your role is critical to the success of any process improvement efforts because:
  • Your knowledge of the bedside is unmatched. You know the strengths and weaknesses of the current system, as well as its most important pain points and how they can be eliminated
  • Patient satisfaction starts with you. Every metric such as length of stay, readmission rate, and mortality rate can all be traced back to the quality of patient care provided by nurses
  • You are well positioned to initiate interventions to address complications, reduce risk, and improve the rate at which outcomes are achieved
  • You are in a unique position to coordinate care delivered by your colleagues, especially if you hold a nurse leadership position
If you are a caregiver, you have a lot of autonomy in how you can personalize your care process while still adhering to standard processes.

Case in Point: Standardization in Infusion Therapy

The 2016 release of the Standards for Infusion Therapy delineates best practices for general infection prevention during infusion-related procedures. Infusion center nurses are required to comply with all current guidelines and procedures to maintain standardized care. However, nurses should also be encouraged to continuously improve and innovate by suggesting various new processes that may lead to better patient care. The goal of standardization in healthcare is to establish evidence and consensus-based approaches that will change and evolve with better, innovative ways of providing patient care.

Improve Your Care Process with SealSkin Medical Wraps

Infusion therapy is one of these areas where balancing standardization with individualized, innovative care can have the biggest impact. The team at SealSkin identified one way to make that care better for both the patient and the caregiver. As you know, an IV makes bathing, ambulating, and participating in various daily activities challenging and sometimes even complicated. Thus, SealSkin was born to help make life easier through our patent-pending medical wrap technology that wraps around IV lines, surgical drains, and over dressings to keep these areas secure, waterproof, and better protected from bacteria. Here’s more about how SealSkin medical wrap helps you provide better care and improve cost-effectiveness, efficiency, and patient satisfaction.