Article Text

Ten challenges in improving quality in healthcare: lessons from the Health Foundation's programme evaluations and relevant literature
  1. Mary Dixon-Woods,
  2. Sarah McNicol,
  3. Graham Martin
  1. Social Science Applied to Healthcare Improvement Research Group, Department of Health Sciences, School of Medicine, University of Leicester, Leicester, UK
  1. Correspondence to Professor Mary Dixon-Woods, Social Science Applied to Healthcare Improvement Research Group, Department of Health Sciences, School of Medicine, University of Leicester, 2nd Floor, Adrian Building, University Road, Leicester LE1 7RH, UK; md11{at}


Background Formal evaluations of programmes are an important source of learning about the challenges faced in improving quality in healthcare and how they can be addressed. The authors aimed to integrate lessons from evaluations of the Health Foundation's improvement programmes with relevant literature.

Methods The authors analysed evaluation reports relating to five Health Foundation improvement programmes using a form of ‘best fit’ synthesis, where a pre-existing framework was used for initial coding and then updated in response to the emerging analysis. A rapid narrative review of relevant literature was also undertaken.

Results The authors identified ten key challenges: convincing people that there is a problem that is relevant to them; convincing them that the solution chosen is the right one; getting data collection and monitoring systems right; excess ambitions and ‘projectness’; organisational cultures, capacities and contexts; tribalism and lack of staff engagement; leadership; incentivising participation and ‘hard edges’; securing sustainability; and risk of unintended consequences. The authors identified a range of tactics that may be used to respond to these challenges.

Discussion Securing improvement may be hard and slow and faces many challenges. Formal evaluations assist in recognising the nature of these challenges and help in addressing them.

  • Adverse events
  • epidemiology and detection
  • qualitative research
  • culture
  • quality of care
  • medical error

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  • Funding The Health Foundation funded this review.

  • Competing interests None.

  • Patient consent Not applicable.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; internally peer reviewed.