Original Research

Teaching Quality Improvement to Internal Medicine Residents to Address Patient Care Gaps in Ambulatory Quality Metrics

From General Internal Medicine, Tufts Medical Center, Boston, MA (Drs. Sathi, Huang, Chandler, Blazey-Martin, and Tishler), and Department of Medicine, University of Maryland Medical Center, Baltimore, MD (Dr. Schwartz).




Objective: To teach internal medicine residents quality improvement (QI) principles in an effort to improve resident knowledge and comfort with QI, as well as address quality care gaps in resident clinic primary care patient panels.

Design: A QI curriculum was implemented for all residents rotating through a primary care block over a 6-month period. Residents completed Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) modules, participated in a QI workshop, and received panel data reports, ultimately completing a plan-do-study-act (PDSA) cycle to improve colorectal cancer screening and hypertension control.

Setting and participants: This project was undertaken at Tufts Medical Center Primary Care, Boston, Massachusetts, the primary care teaching practice for all 75 internal medicine residents at Tufts Medical Center. All internal medicine residents were included, with 55 (73%) of the 75 residents completing the presurvey, and 39 (52%) completing the postsurvey.

Measurements: We administered a 10-question pre- and postsurvey looking at resident attitudes toward and comfort with QI and familiarity with their panel data as well as measured rates of colorectal cancer screening and hypertension control in resident panels.

Results: There was an increase in the numbers of residents who performed a PDSA cycle (P = .002), completed outreach based on their panel data (P = .02), and felt comfortable in both creating aim statements and designing and implementing PDSA cycles (P < .0001). The residents’ knowledge of their panel data significantly increased. There was no significant improvement in hypertension control, but there was an increase in colorectal cancer screening rates (P < .0001).

Conclusion: Providing panel data and performing targeted QI interventions can improve resident comfort with QI, translating to improvement in patient outcomes.

Keywords: quality improvement, resident education, medical education, care gaps, quality metrics.

As quality improvement (QI) has become an integral part of clinical practice, residency training programs have continued to evolve in how best to teach QI. The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) Common Program requirements mandate that core competencies in residency programs include practice-based learning and improvement and systems-based practice.1 Residents should receive education in QI, receive data on quality metrics and benchmarks related to their patient population, and participate in QI activities. The Clinical Learning Environment Review (CLER) program was established to provide feedback to institutions on 6 focused areas, including patient safety and health care quality. In visits to institutions across the United States, the CLER committees found that many residents had limited knowledge of QI concepts and limited access to data on quality metrics and benchmarks.2

There are many barriers to implementing a QI curriculum in residency programs, and creating and maintaining successful strategies has proven challenging.3 Many QI curricula for internal medicine residents have been described in the literature, but the results of many of these studies focus on resident self-assessment of QI knowledge and numbers of projects rather than on patient outcomes.4-13 As there is some evidence suggesting that patients treated by residents have worse outcomes on ambulatory quality measures when compared with patients treated by staff physicians,14,15 it is important to also look at patient outcomes when evaluating a QI curriculum. Experts in education recommend the following to optimize learning: exposure to both didactic and experiential opportunities, connection to health system improvement efforts, and assessment of patient outcomes in addition to learner feedback.16,17 A study also found that providing panel data to residents could improve quality metrics.18

In this study, we sought to investigate the effects of a resident QI intervention during an ambulatory block on both residents’ self-assessments of QI knowledge and attitudes as well as on patient quality metrics.


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