To develop the capacity for rapid-cycle improvement at the unit level, a large freestanding children’s hospital designated 2 inpatient units with normal patient loads and workforce as pilot “Innovation Units” where frontline staff was trained to lead rigorous improvement portfolios.
Frontline staff received improvement training, and interdisciplinary teams brainstormed ideas for tests of change. Ideas were prioritized using an impact-effort evaluation and an assessment of how they aligned with high-level goals. A template for each test summarized the following: the opportunity for improvement, the test being conducted, dates for the tests, driver diagrams, metrics to measure effects, baseline data, results, findings, and next steps. Successful interventions were implemented and disseminated to other units.
Multidisciplinary staff generated 150 improvement ideas and Innovation Units collectively ran >40 plan-do-study-act cycles. Of the 10 distinct improvement projects, elements of all 10 were deemed “successful” and fully implemented on the unit, and elements from 8 were spread to other units. More than 3 years later, elements of all of the successful improvements are still in practice in some form on the units, and each unit has tested >20 additional improvement ideas, using multiple plan-do-study-act cycles to refine them.
The Innovation Unit model successfully engaged frontline staff in improvement work and established a sustainable system and framework for managing rigorous improvement portfolios at the unit level. Other hospitals and health care delivery settings may find our quality improvement approach helpful, especially because it is rooted in the microsystem of care delivery.