How Do You Define Quality?

Quality is a buzzword of the healthcare industry. One of the first things managers will ask their staffs. What does it mean? What is it not? Learn what it is about, how to assess its value, and if it’s within your budget, what steps you need to take to achieve that quality standard.

Part 1 of how do you define quality? Defining Quality provides a description of quality, how you assess it, and describe the stakeholders who are most affected by quality. Note: as you progress throughout this series, you’ll be focusing more on your own definition of quality. For example, when I evaluate healthcare, I focus on five things: safety, appropriateness, process, communication, and outcomes. In my book, Health and Business: The Drivers of Quality, I focus on these key areas: safety, access, satisfaction, and financial security. The next two articles will focus on each of these topics.

Why do we need these definitions? Because questions such as, “How do you define quality?” can invalidate our ability to clearly communicate our standards and ensure that our processes and operations operate smoothly. If we’re unable to clearly define our definitions, we risk being unable to make changes that improve our quality performance.

The goal with these definitions is to provide managers with the information they need to make important decisions. As I mentioned in my book, Health and Business: The Drivers of Quality, there are three major purposes for which we use definitions. First, we use these definitions to tell customers and stakeholders what we expect of them. Second, we use these definitions to specify the performance that our processes and systems will deliver. Finally, we use these definitions to specify the right things right now and in the future. Let’s discuss each of these points.

Customers and stakeholders expect to receive and benefit from good products or services. They also expect these things to be delivered to them in a reasonable time. When you’re defining quality, this is why your definition should include all of these aspects. Ideally, however, your definition should also take into account whether a change will have a significant impact on the definition (i.e., a change that increases costs or lowers the quality of a product). A definition should highlight both the risks associated with the change and the benefits to customers and stakeholders. For example, if the new definition indicates that a quality target will be set higher than the current target in order to achieve the company’s low-carbon footprint, it should also indicate the potential costs of that change and the steps that the company will take to mitigate those costs.

Defining quality involves defining the right things right now. There are two ways to do this: To define quality as a quality attribute, or to define quality as a cultural or organizational value. Cultural and organizational values are usually considered more appropriate because they are harder to replace. But, these attributes can be difficult to measure and may not provide an accurate picture of what customers and employees want. Defining quality as a quality attribute allows customers and stakeholders to easily compare one type of performance with another.

Once you’ve defined quality in terms of the definition above, you need to be able to measure your own company’s quality performance against these standards. Different definition may call for different measurements, but common measurements include quality score, defects per million population, lifetime defects, and change over time. In some cases, a single definition will be more appropriate, depending on how your business currently measures quality: a single definition might be a company-wide standard, while a different definition might be the definition used by a single department.

These definitions are just the first step in defining quality. You’ll find that there are many other dimensions to quality and the actual measurement of quality can be more involved. However, if you know where to look, you can use the definition above to get you started on the road to creating the perfect quality product or service.

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