The foundations of quality improvement science

Article from “Future Hospital Journal 2016 Vol 3, No 3:

Authors: Julie E Reed, Nicola Davey and Thomas Woodcock



As an alternative to ‘big bang’ initiatives, plan-do-study-act (PDSA) cycles are an increasingly popular approach to conducting tests of change to support quality improvement in healthcare. Using PDSA cycles can help clinicians deliver improvements in patient care through a structured experimental approach to learning and tests of change. The PDSA approach facilitates individual, team and organisational learning, making it an essential tool for the future hospital.

This paper provides an example of the benefits of using PDSA in practice to test and develop a change idea to ensure it is fit for purpose. As with any new skill or competency, learn- ing to use PDSA cycles takes time and practice and is necessary to ensure that the method is being used to its full effect. This paper explores some of the challenges encountered by clinicians in learning to use PDSA cycles well, and provides advice on how they can be overcome to help practitioners get more out of using the method.