Keeping a keen eye on quality

Ms Hanh Nguyen, Director of Quality Management at American International Hospital in Vietnam, shares how they have maintained a focus on quality improvement during the pandemic.

The healthcare sector has been kept on its toes for the past two years – with the COVID-19 pandemic came a long list of urgent work tasks, from sourcing supplies, increasing capacity, boosting infection control – and the list goes on.

Ongoing quality improvement may fall off the priority list. But it falls to the hospitals’ quality departments to keep this important task at top of mind, says Ms Hanh Nguyen, Director of Quality Management at American International Hospital (AIH) in Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City.

AIH is a relatively new private hospital which opened its doors in 2018. However, from the start, it has closely followed Joint Commission International (JCI) and American standards in design, operations and diagnosis and treatment guidelines, Ms Hanh shares. Johns Hopkins Medicine International is a partner, providing consultancy on its clinical and operational programmes.

This dedication to quality has been tested during the pandemic. “Quality improvement projects need involvement from all parts of the hospital, but during the COVID-19 pandemic, the top priority for the hospital would be dealing with patients and pandemic circumstances,” she explains.

Nevertheless, she points to the culture of teamwork and collaboration, with quality excellence as a core value for the hospital, that enabled them to carry out several successful quality projects in 2021.

One key project is implementing the 5S system. Originating from Japan, this methodology focuses on organisation and improvement of the work environment, to eliminate waste in time and resources. The 5S refers to:

  • Sort – removing unnecessary items
  • Set in order – arranging items for maximum efficiency
  • Shine – cleanliness
  • Standardise – development of SOPs for the first three steps
  • Sustain – maintain these processes and constantly update

Particularly in the healthcare sector, Safety is often added as the 6th step in the process, to reduce risk of danger or hazards in the environment.

“We conducted a survey assessment before and after the 6S project was carried out, and there was a significant increase in staff work satisfaction. They noticed more convenience and efficiency in their work,” Ms Hanh notes. “We also saw that there is better management of resources. For example, staff are not taking extra materials that they do not actually need.”

She was also proud of how her hospital adapted to carrying out quality-related activities and training online. For example, quality audits used to be done with quite a few officers physically checking the departments and sites around the hospital. Those are now being conducted virtually, with only one quality officer on-site holding a camera, with the rest of the unit asking questions and making their assessments via video conferencing. This has helped in terms of social distancing and reducing the risk of virus spread during the pandemic.

Recognising the growing importance of risk management

In 2022, one of Ms Hanh’s top priorities is improving patient experience and preparing for JCI certification. The hospital has already conducted a mock survey, and will continue carrying out improvement actions to close the current gaps, conduct more training and other preparations to ensure it meets quality and patient safety standards and get JCI accredited by this year.

Another major project is implementing a comprehensive risk management programme for the hospital. Ms Hanh describes this as a priority that goes beyond meeting standards or guidelines, but a crucial step in “meeting the goal of quality management and patient safety.”

“We started on this process late 2021, and are looking to roll this out in 2022,” says Ms Hanh.

“Risk management is a proactive and systematic process of risk identification, analysis, evaluation of potential and actual risks and treatment. It is also a reactive and retrospective process for monitoring, reviewing to learn and improve. This will involve looking at the current processes and areas, the frequency or rate of incidents, and the impact to staff and patients. We need to assess the risks department-wide, also hospital-wide, and work with respective departments to develop an action plan that reduces the risks. These should be reported and monitored regularly.”

While hospitals continue to come under pressure from the long-drawn fight against COVID-19, it is important to maintain focus in key areas such as continuous quality and safety improvement. This would ensure the hospitals remain in a good position for growth in the post-pandemic world.