Governance of quality of care: a qualitative study of health service boards in Victoria, Australia

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Abstract

Objectives

To describe the engagement of health service boards with quality-of-care issues and to identify factors that influence boards’ activities in this area.

Methods

We conducted semistructured interviews with 35 board members and executives from 13 public health services in Victoria, Australia. Interviews focused on the role currently played by boards in overseeing quality of care. We also elicited interviewees’ perceptions of factors that have influenced their current approach to governance in this area. Thematic analysis was used to identify key themes from interview transcripts.

Results

Virtually all interviewees believed boards had substantial opportunities to influence the quality of care delivered within the service, chiefly through setting priorities, monitoring progress, holding staff to account and shaping culture. Perceived barriers to leveraging this influence included insufficient resources, gaps in skills and experience among board members, inadequate information on performance and regulatory requirements that miss the mark. Interviewees converged on four enablers of more effective quality governance: stronger regional collaborations; more tailored board training on quality issues; smarter use of reporting and accreditation requirements; and better access to data that was reliable, longitudinal and allowed for benchmarking against peer organisations.

Conclusions

Although health service boards are eager to establish quality of care as a governance priority, several obstacles are blocking progress. The result is a gap between the rhetoric of quality governance and the reality of month-to-month activities at the board level. The imperative for effective board-level engagement in this area cannot be met until these barriers are addressed.

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