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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
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Cervical Cancer Screening

Part 1: Introduction

Part 2: Characteristics for Success: Cervical Cancer Screening

Part 3: Implementation of Clinical Quality Measure: Cervical Cancer Screening

Part 4: Improvement Strategies: Cervical Cancer Screening

Part 5: Holding the Gains and Spreading Improvement

Part 6: Supporting Information

Part 2: Characteristics for Success: Cervical Cancer Screening 

Organizations that were successful in improving Cervical Cancer Screening for patients approached the issue in a systematic way, with careful attention to the factors that have an impact on effectively screening a targeted population. Although clinics may differ in specific workflow, documentation, and staffing models, organizations that experienced successful improvement efforts shared these three fundamental characteristics:

  1. Clear direction
  2. Functional infrastructure for quality improvement
  3. Commitment from leadership 

1. Clear Direction 

Successful organizations found it is important to define clearly what they are trying to accomplish. Most often in improvement work, leadership defines an aim that guides an organization's efforts. An aim is a written, measurable, and time-sensitive statement of the accomplishments a team expects to achieve from its improvement efforts. The aim statement contains a general description of the work, the system of focus, and numerical goals. The aim statement includes a very specific indication of what success looks like and may include guidance that further frames the work, including methodologies to be used and budgetary and staffing limitations. Examples of tools used by QI teams to create their aim statements include an Aim Worksheet and Aim Statement Checklist.Exit Disclaimer. (17) Additional information, including tools and resources to assist an organization in developing its aim statement, can be found in the Readiness Assessment and Developing Project Aims module. A completed aim statement for the measure, Cervical Cancer Screening, is shown in Example 2.1: Assessing the Aim Statement for White Cloud Health Group (WCHG) Using the Aim Statement Checklist.

The following hypothetical example provides an aim statement created by the fictional White Cloud Health Group's QI team, and the checklist the team used to assess its completed aim statement. Using the Aim Statement Checklist to assess the QI team's aim statement provides reassurance that the team included the necessary components of the aim statement for its improvement project.

Example 2.1: Assessing the Aim Statement for White Cloud Health Group (WCHG) Using the Aim Statement Checklist

Aim Statement: Over the next 12 months, we will redesign the care systems of White Cloud Health Group to ensure that 80 percent of women aged 21 to 64 years have been screened for cervical cancer with at least one Pap test within the past three years. We will begin with women cared for by Julie Smiley's practice and spread to Dr. Tom's practice beginning in month 13 or sooner, if possible.


  • Community partnerships should be leveraged
  • A key focus will be systems for patient outreach

*Here is an example of how WCHG evaluated its aim statement using the Aim Statement Checklist.

Aim Statement Checklist for Example 2.1: (22)

What is expected to happen?
WCHG: More patients of the targeted age will complete cervical cancer screening with Pap testing

Time period to achieve the aim?
WCHG: 12 months

Which system will be improved?
WCHG: Care systems that improve completion of Pap screening

What is the target population?
WCHG: Female patients in Julie Smiley's practice aged 21 to 64 years

Specific numerical goals?
WCHG: 80 percent of eligible women will be screened

As noted, the WCHG improvement team will work together with its community partnerships and focus on patient outreach.

Evaluating what others achieved provides appropriate context for choosing the numerical portion of an organization's aim. While the goal of 100 percent of patients completing cervical cancer screening with Pap testing is optimal, an organization can set an appropriate and realistic goal based on the review of comparable data after consideration of the payer mix of the patient population served. For some measures, it may be possible to find examples of benchmark data, which demonstrates the performance of a best practice. It is important to consider an organization's particular patient population when making comparisons to others' achievements. An organization may consider socioeconomic status and race/ethnicity of the population served, organizational size, payer mix, availability of screening, and other criteria in an effort to achieve an accurate comparison. Reviewing what others accomplished may help an organization to understand what is feasible to achieve. The numerical part of the aim should be obtainable, yet high enough to challenge the team to substantially and meaningfully improve. Additional guidance about setting aims can be found in the Readiness Assessment and Developing Project Aims module.

The NCQA HEDIS data set is one source to consider when choosing an aim or comparing the performance of the measure, Cervical Cancer Screening. (23) Current data is accessible from the Trending and Benchmarks Exit Disclaimer. section. There is considerable variation among the regions, which correspond to the Health and Human Services Regions of the United States. Sources of data for additional comparisons vary regionally but may include payers, State programs, aggregate HRSA program data, and State or regional quality improvement programs 

2.Functional Infrastructure for Quality Improvement 

Successful organizations found that improvement work requires a systematic approach to measuring performance, testing small changes, and tracking the impact of those changes over time. This section describes four essential components of an infrastructure to support quality improvement efforts, including:

    • Quality improvement teams
    • Tools and resources
    • Organizing improvements
    • Building on the efforts of others by using changes that worked

    There is considerable variation in how this infrastructure is created and maintained. It is important that each component is addressed in a way that fits an organization.

    Quality Improvement Teams

    Multidisciplinary QI teams are typically tasked to carry out this work. For improvement focused on Cervical Cancer Screening, it is important to include a provider who wants to focus on increasing the number of patients screened for cervical cancer, i.e., a provider champion for improvement. In addition to the provider champion, other appropriate members of a QI team may include:

    • Nurses
    • Case managers
    • Patient outreach specialist
    • Patient navigator
    • Scheduling staff
    • Information specialist
    • Community partners, such as, local hospitals, imaging centers, and breast and cervical cancer advocacy groups
    • Other staff involved in the patient care process, such as, receptionists, wellness specialists, administrative staff, medical assistants, pharmacists, and health coaches

    It should be noted that patients can add great value to the QI process when prepared to participate in a meaningful way. The reference manual by the National Quality Center (NQC), A Guide to Consumer Involvement, Exit Disclaimer. has practical ideas to assist an organization on how to involve patients in its QI process.

    There are no wrong answers here. Members of a team bring expert knowledge of the work they do to support cancer screening for patients. Together, the team learns where and how its individual actions intersect and how each can have an impact on a patient's cervical cancer screening. The ability to think from a systems perspective and the will to improve cervical cancer screening rates for patients are the primary prerequisites that contribute to a successful improvement team. A more advanced discussion on forming an improvement team can be found in the Improvement Teams module.

    Tools and Resources

    It is important that a QI team have the tools and resources necessary to achieve its established organizational aim. Some personnel may struggle shifting from the daily work of patient care to their roles on the quality improvement team. Those challenges can be straight forward, such as, coordinating meeting times or developing content for the meetings to support the team's quality improvement efforts. Successful QI teams learned that organizing meetings efficiently is essential in their improvement efforts. Tools, such as Tips for Effective Meetings, Exit Disclaimer. can help a QI team to structure meetings that focus its scheduled time on improvement efforts. Another useful tool includes one that displays data in a way that makes sense to the team members. These types of tools are commonly used by improvement teams to remain focused on the work of improvement. The most important resource needs are uninterrupted time to focus on quality improvement and autonomy to test changes responsibly. Additional team resources and tools can be found in the Improvement Teams module.

    Organizing Improvements

    Successful organizations learned that planning an approach to change is essential. Change is, by nature, unsettling for some and presenting a clear direction and methodology can be reassuring. Most organizations with quality improvement experience adopted methodologies to help them organize their improvements.

    As a QI team approaches improvement of cervical cancer screening rates, it should use quality models already embraced by its organization. For example, many organizations adopted the Care Model Exit Disclaimer. to organize their approaches to implementing quality improvement changes. Others successfully embraced the LEAN approach; both of these models provide a framework for a health care organization to plan and move toward implementing its improvement efforts. There is no single model that is considered correct. Organizational alignment of methodology makes sense from the perspective of efficient training. A consistent quality improvement approach and the sharing of improvement ideas among members of a quality team can facilitate the replication of QI activities across an organization and maximize the impact of the overall QI program.

    Just as organizations that are experienced in quality improvement activities adopted quality models that guide their work, many embraced a change methodology. A change methodology guides the actual change process, which involves managing how changes are made as opposed to what changes are made.

    For some organizations, all changes are approved by a decision leader and then implemented. Others use a committee structure to evaluate and implement changes. Again, there is no right or wrong methodology, but one change methodology that has been found to be particularly helpful in quality improvement is called the Model for Improvement. The Model for Improvement, developed by Associates in Process Improvement, is a simple, yet powerful tool for accelerating improvement. The model is not meant to replace a change model that an organization may already be using, but rather to accelerate improvement. This model has been used successfully by health care organizations to improve many different health care processes and outcomes.

    The Model for Improvement encourages small, rapid-cycle tests of changes and learning from each test to improve processes and outcomes. In improvement, this has a distinct advantage in decreasing the time it takes for changes resulting in improvement to be implemented. This methodology also directly involves the individuals who do the work, which provides additional insights into how to rapidly improve care processes.

    Building on the Efforts of Others by Using Changes that Worked

    One hallmark that successful organizations found beneficial in advancing their quality improvement programs is that everyone across the organization uses the same tools and language to make continuous improvements. A motto of many QI training leaders is "steal shamelessly." This is not the unethical, criminal intent, but instead the sense of "Why reinvent the wheel?" What does it mean to "steal shamelessly"? It means "stealing" or using what has worked in other organizations and "shamelessly" testing and implementing it to create rapid change in one's own organization.

    Specific change ideas that worked for others to successfully improve Pap screening rates are detailed later in this module in the Changes that Work section. Additionally, an organization that has improvement experience in another measurement area, such as, prenatal care, chronic disease care, or immunizations, often adapts the successful tools to use with this measure.

3. Commitment from Leadership 

For quality improvement efforts to be effective and sustained, leaders must show commitment to them. Typically, leaders may make a commitment to specific target areas for improvement once they consider the overall needs of the organization, requirements of funders, and how the proposed efforts align with the organization's mission and strategic plan. Leaders that consider quality improvement efforts as an "add-on" may be unable to maintain QI as a priority as other realities compete for the organization's attention and resources. Successful leaders in quality improvement integrate and align QI activities as part of their daily business operations.

A quality improvement team needs to have leadership commitment expressed in a tangible way. Often, it is an explicit dedication of resources, which may include team meeting time, data support, and specific planned opportunities that communicate actionable improvement suggestions to an organization's leadership. The authority of the improvement team and any constraining parameters should be clear. Detailed information highlighting the important role of leadership in a QI project can be found in the Quality Improvement module.

Below is a case study that is followed throughout the module and depicts the effort of one QI team as it focuses on improving the rate of cervical screening of women accessing care in its organization. The case study may be read in its entirety by clicking here.

Case Study: The Problem.

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