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Quality Improvement (QI) initiatives in primary care are effective at improving uptake of evidence based guidelines, but are difficult to implement and sustain. In Australia meso-level health organisations such as Primary health care Organisations (PHCO) offer new opportunities to implement area-wide QI programs. This study sought to identify enablers and barriers to implementation of an existing Australian QI program and to identify strategic directions that PHCOs can use in the ongoing development of QI in this environment.
Semi-structured telephone interviews were conducted with 15 purposively selected program staff and participants from the Australian Primary Care Collaborative (APCC) QI program. Interviewees included seven people involved in design, administration and implementation of the APCC program and eight primary care providers (seven General Practitioners (GPs) and one practice nurse) who had participated in the program from 2004 to 2014. Interviewees were asked to describe their experience of the program and reflect on what enabled or impeded its implementation. Interviews were recorded, transcribed and iteratively analysed, with early analysis informing subsequent interviews. Identified themes and their implications were reviewed by a GP expert reference group.
Implementation enablers and barriers were grouped into five thematic areas: (1) leadership, particularly the identification and utilisation of change champions; (2) organisational culture that supports quality improvement; (3) funding incentives that support a culture of quality and innovation; (4) access to and use of accurate data; and 5) design and utilisation of clinical systems that enable and support these issues. In all of these areas, the active involvement of an overarching external support organisation was considered a key ingredient to successful implementation.
There are substantial opportunities for PHCOs to play a pivotal role in QI implementation in Australia and internationally. In developing QI programs and policies, such organisations ought to invest their efforts in: (1) identifying and mentoring local leaders; (2) fostering QI culture via development of local peer networks; (3) developing and advocating for alternative funding models to support and incentivise these activities; (4) investing in data and audit tool infrastructure; and (5) facilitation of systems implementation within primary care practices.