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The University of Texas System Clinical Safety and Effectiveness Course

Eric J. Thomas, MD, MPH; Jan Patterson, MD, MS; Sherry Martin, MEd; Doris Quinn, PhD; Gary Reed, MD; Ken Shine, MD | February 1, 2011 
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Health care in the United States is undergoing profound changes due to societal demands to improve the quality of care and simultaneously reduce costs. Hospitals and office practices are responding by using quality improvement (QI) tools developed in other industries and successfully applied in health care. As noted by leading experts, "The application of improvement tools is not only essential to modernizing care delivery but also the key to preserving the values to which our current system aspires."(1)

Unfortunately, most front-line caregivers complete their professional training with almost no exposure to even rudimentary QI concepts or methods.(2-5) To address this need, a few programs have been developed for practicing physicians and other caregivers to teach them how to improve quality (Table). These programs are targeted at professionals who have finished training, are not degree granting, and focus on relatively quick acquisition of practical skills and concepts. The model for many of these courses is the Advanced Training Program led by Brent James at Intermountain Healthcare.(10,13)

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center began such a course in 2005 (The Clinical Safety and Effectiveness Course [CS&E]), and its success led us to implement courses in four of the six health campuses in the University of Texas system. This perspective provides an overview of our experience, and we compare and contrast our program with others in order to inform efforts by other universities and health care systems that want to address this urgent need.

Background and Curriculum of the University of Texas Clinical Safety and Effectiveness Course

The University of Texas System has six health campuses: UT Health Science Center at Houston, UT Medical Branch at Galveston, UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, UT MD Anderson Cancer Center, and UT Health Science Center at Tyler. The purpose of the CS&E course is to provide physicians, other key clinicians, and administrators the skills and knowledge required to lead breakthrough change initiatives. After initial success at UT MD Anderson Cancer Center, all presidents of the UT System health care institutions approved a proposal in 2007 to develop and implement CS&E programs on their own campuses. A UT CS&E Steering Committee with representatives from each campus was established to provide oversight for the course expansion, and in 2008 the University's Regents provided funding from the UT System's malpractice liability reserve fund.

The curriculum focuses on quality concepts and evidence-based medicine, including variation, guideline development, history of quality management, health services research, data management, quality tools, teamwork, health policy and economics, project management, and return-on-investment. A key factor is our effort to align the classes' QI projects with the strategic goals of each organization. Thus, students are nominated by their supervisor or other leaders, and then selected by a committee. Explicit support by the student's supervisor is critical given the significant time investment. Each project is closely supervised by course leaders. Students must create high-quality aim statements, utilize performance improvement tools (fishbone diagrams, Pareto charts, etc.), and have explicit, measurable outcomes.

Although we began with a single idea, each campus subsequently customized the curriculum to draw upon local strengths and address local needs. For example, at UT Houston, the course draws heavily upon Six Sigma because two Six Sigma Master Black Belts from the primary teaching hospital (Memorial Hermann Texas Medical Center) help lead the course. It is also focused on developing physician leaders because there was already an adequate number of Six Sigma–trained, non-MD health care professionals at Memorial Hermann. At UT Houston, the CS&E course can also be taken for credit by students who are working on a Masters in Clinical Research. In contrast, UT HSC San Antonio's program focuses on interprofessional teams from the university faculty practice and affiliated hospitals. Continuing medical education is now being offered as a part of the course. The San Antonio course has also led to development of QI curriculum for medical and nursing students, and for residents. At UT Southwestern, the program is given in collaboration with Parkland Health and Hospital System and Children's Medical Center, where several of the participating faculty have completed the Intermountain Healthcare Advanced Training Program. This course relies heavily on these experienced clinicians as well as local experts in Six Sigma, Lean, and crew resource management. At MD Anderson Cancer Center, the CS&E course is a springboard to the "Quality College"—several advanced courses in QI methods.

Outcomes to Date

As of May 2010, there are 577 graduates of the UT CS&E course (UT MD Anderson Cancer Center = 379; UT Health Science Center San Antonio = 63; UT Health Science Center Houston = 39; UT Southwestern = 37; UT Medical Branch in Galveston = 52; and UT Health Science Center Tyler = 7).The two campuses without their own courses (Galveston and Tyler) have been sending faculty to the MD Anderson course. The graduates have completed 260 QI projects.

In October 2010, we held the first annual UT CS&E conference and recognition event, hosted by the UT System. The purpose was to encourage sharing and collaboration of QI methods across the system and to further educate attendees by presentations from national experts. The conference had 230 participants, including 60 CS&E graduates who presented peer-reviewed abstracts. Evaluations were positive: 96% felt the conference "met or exceeded their expectations," and 86% stated that they "intend to make a change by applying the information learned."

Graduates are being promoted to leadership positions (e.g., physician medical directors), leading efforts to add quality and safety teaching into health professional curricula, leading additional QI projects, and presenting at national meetings. Course graduates are mentoring students as they participate in regional and national QI organizations, such as the Institute for Healthcare Improvement's Open School. A small number of medical students have also taken the CS&E course. A less quantitative, but extremely important outcome is that the course often gives frustrated and demoralized physicians the skills they need to do what they have always wanted: to provide high-quality care. This often leads to a renewed commitment to, and enjoyment of, their profession.

Challenges and Future Directions

We are still working toward our goal of having a course based at each campus while also sharing resources across sites, such as using videoconferencing for some speakers. Another challenge is how to encourage each site to develop its unique strengths and resources without straying too far from the successful core curriculum developed by Brent James and UT MD Anderson Cancer Center. The course also needs to develop a sustainable financial model. The primary cost at each site is time for course directors, instructors, administrative support, and performance improvement expertise to help with each project. Potentially, health care organizations that accrue savings from the projects can use that to reinvest into the course. Our course, and others, would also benefit from tying the course goals to a more robust set of measurable outcomes. The Table presents some outcomes of similar courses, and also compares the courses' duration, target populations, and curricula. Finally, some of our institutions are revising promotion and tenure criteria to explicitly acknowledge QI as an activity that is counted toward promotion and tenure.(14)

Eric J. Thomas, MD, MPHGriff T. Ross Professor in Humanities and TechnologyDirector, UT Houston-Memorial Hermann Center for Healthcare Quality and Safety Professor of Medicine University of Texas Medical School at Houston

Jan E. Patterson, MD, MSProfessor and Associate Dean for Quality and Lifelong LearningUniversity of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio

Sherry Martin, MEdChancelor's Healthcare Fellow in Clinical Safety and EffectivenessThe University of Texas System

Doris Quinn, PhDDirector, Process Improvement and Quality EducationDepartment of Performance ImprovementUniversity of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

Gary Reed, MDChief Quality Officer, UT Southwestern Health SystemProfessor of Internal MedicineUniversity of Texas Southwestern Medical School

Kenneth I. Shine, MDExecutive Vice Chancellor for Health AffairsThe University of Texas System


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Target Population



Outcomes & Additional Comments

University of Texas Clinical Safety and Effectiveness Course

A broad variety of caregivers, and administrators. Target population varies slightly among campuses (e.g., focus on physicians in some sites and interprofessional teams at other sites).

1. To provide clinicians and leaders the concepts and tools to lead breakthrough change initiatives.

2. Develop a UT System-wide program that encourages adoption of best practices for QI and collaboration across campuses.

3. To facilitate career development for faculty by giving them the skills to be quality improvement leaders and educators.


Duration varies among campuses, up to 9 months;

Course is 8 days, plus time for a QI project;

Content : standard, evidenced-based quality theory and techniques including:

1. impact of variation

2. guideline/protocol development and implementation

3. outcome measurement

4. health services research

5. health policy and economics

6. quality vs. research

7. severity of illness measurement and application

8.History of Total Quality Management/Continuous Quality Improvement

9. teams and teamwork

10. Data Management

1. 608 graduates

2. Courses created at 4 of 6 UT System health campus with slight variations at each site based upon local strengths and need.

3. 260 QI projects completed.

4. All graduates and other leaders can attend an annual UT System conference to present projects and learn from each other and national experts.

5. Course graduates lead ongoing QI and efforts to introduce quality concepts into health professional education.

Veterans Affairs National Quality Scholars Fellowship Program (6)

Post-residency physicians

1. To apply knowledge of QI to care

2. Innovate and improve health care

3. Teach health care professionals about QI

4. Research & develop new knowledge for QI

5. Enrich VHA clinical workforce with experts in research & application of QI skills

Duration: 2 years

Course requires

1. face-to-face meetings yearly (4 day summer institute, 1 day IHI meeting, 1 day @ VA Health Services Research and Development meeting)

2. 2 hr video conferences every 2 weeks of didactic sessions, presentations of work, live exercises, and assigned reading

3. Research and QI projects

Course content includes (but not limited to): systems failure and medical errors, process and outcomes thinking, change concepts, variation and statistical process control, research design, and benchmarking.

1. 75 physicians trained since 1999

2. 33 graduates have faculty positions at VA program sites

3. Alumni have published more than 300 articles in peer-reviewed journals


Baylor Accelerating Best Care(7-9)

Change leaders (physicians, nursing and administrative leaders)

1. Engage leadership in outcomes improvement

2. Align clinical process champions

3. Align incentives and transparency

4. Use technology to facilitate outcomes improvement and monitoring

5. Provide assistance in evaluating the impact of interventions in CQI framework and designing additional or new interventions

Duration: 6 days

Course includes didactic instruction and design, implementation, and evaluation of a QI project

Course Content:

1. QI methods to improve care

2. data monitoring

3. patient outcomes

4. evidence-based medicine

5. quality indicators

6. consumerism and the patient perspective

7. QI and cost

Implemented ABC program in 16 Texas rural hospitals and 2 Pennsylvania rural hospitals;



Intermountain Advanced Training Program (10,11)

Executives and QI leaders

1. To give participants the understanding and tools necessary to conduct state-of-the-art clinical practice improvement projects, use quality improvement methods to manage and integrate non-clinical processes, implement quality improvement programs, and conduct internal quality improvement training.

2. Allow participants the opportunity to join a national/international network that provides ongoing support and information sharing for future collaborations.

Duration: 20 days

Course includes lectures from national experts and completion and reporting of a QI project.

Course Content:

1. guideline/protocol development and implementation

2. outcome measurement

3. health services research

4. health policy and economics

5. cost-based accounting

6. medical informatics

7. severity of illness measurement and application

8. Total Quality Management/Continuous Quality Improvement

9. teams and teamwork

1250 medical leaders have participated in ATP since 1992 (affiliated with 330 organizations)

U Mass Physician Quality Officers (12)

Physician leaders

1. Build institutional strength for QI mission

2. Engage department chairs and leaders in QI projects early

3. Select physicians with leadership skills and compensate them for their time

4. Include physician and nonphysician leaders in recruitment, selection, and training of new quality officers

5. Centralize physician quality officers as part of administration to align the work of PQOs with hospital goals

6. Enhance PQOs careers with training in safety science, support to attend meetings, and bonuses for good performance

Duration: 8 hours

Program includes:

1. Quality College ("boot camp")

2. Participation in ongoing projects, reflecting on successes and failures with chief quality officer

3. Direction of improvement projects with reflection on successes and failures with chief quality officer and the PQOs

Course Content:

1. quality improvement science

2. opportunities for improvement and clinical decision support

3. patient safety, patient experience, and systems analysis

4. project management, process redesign, Plan-Do-Study-Act model

Trained 7 PQOs, which benefitted from 1) QI experience and training, 2) Institutional and peer recognition, and 3) Financial reward for achieving objectives

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Table. Overview of some quality improvement courses in the United States for caregivers who have completed training. (PDF, 93K)

(Go to table citation in the text)









This project was funded under contract number 75Q80119C00004 from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The authors are solely responsible for this report’s contents, findings, and conclusions, which do not necessarily represent the views of AHRQ. Readers should not interpret any statement in this report as an official position of AHRQ or of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. None of the authors has any affiliation or financial involvement that conflicts with the material presented in this report. View AHRQ Disclaimers
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