thINc360 – The Healthcare Innovation Congress
June 20 – 22, 2023 | Washington, DC

Fast Five with Stephanie Mercado, CAE CPHQ

What challenges or gaps in care are you focused on?

NAHQ is focused on preparing a coordinated, competent workforce to lead and advance healthcare quality across the continuum of healthcare.  We believe there is significant variability in the workforce and have taken the lead on resolving quality and safety improvement to help healthcare organizations achieve quality and safety goals faster.

To that end, NAHQ recently published groundbreaking research to provide an evidence-based understanding of the relative strengths and weaknesses of the quality and safety work being performed by people working in healthcare: “Healthcare Quality and Safety Report, New Imperatives for Quality and Safety Mean New Imperatives for Workforce Development.”

What initiatives are you currently spearheading to improve health?

NAHQ is the only organization dedicated to healthcare quality professionals, defining the standard of excellence for the profession, and equipping professionals and organizations across the continuum of healthcare to meet these standards. NAHQ believes that to reduce variability in healthcare delivery, we must first reduce variability in healthcare quality competencies, so we focus our efforts on healthcare quality competencies and workforce development.

NAHQ supports the industry at both the individual and organization level, beginning with the publishing of the first and only Healthcare Quality Competency Framework, twice validated in the market. We offer the only accredited certification in healthcare quality, the Certified Professional in Healthcare Quality® (CPHQ), extensive educational programming, networking opportunities, and career resources to help healthcare quality professionals enhance their competencies and their value.  Additionally, organizations around the country have benefitted from NAHQ’s Workforce Accelerator®, a scalable, multi-phase enterprise solution for healthcare organizations to collaborate with our team to accelerate their quality journey — initiating, assessing, planning, and activating to leverage their quality workforce. As a program designed to build workforce capabilities and capacity for quality and safety, Workforce Accelerator helps organizations prioritize their opportunities to accelerate achievement of their quality and performance improvement goals.

What necessary collaborations/partnerships have you established within and/or outside of your organization in developing your initiatives?

NAHQ is actively implementing Workforce Accelerator® at leading health systems that include Kaiser Foundation Health Plan and Hospitals in Northern California, and all 18 of the Veterans Health Administration’s VISNs (Veterans Integrated Services Networks), which are the VHA’s regional health systems, making this the largest deployment yet of Workforce Accelerator. Additionally, Texas-based CHRISTUS Health, Inspira Health of New Jersey, and Oaklawn Hospital in Michigan, are implementing Workforce Accelerator at their organizations.

NAHQ  regularly contributes insights and participates on industry committees, such as: the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality/Institute for Healthcare Improvement’s National Steering Committee for Patient Safety, and the technical expert panel (TEP) for the patient safety structural measure that Yale New Haven Health Services Corporation/Center for Outcomes Research and Evaluation (CORE) is developing with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

What is your measurement criteria for success/or current measurable improvements have you realized from the initiative?

NAHQ sought to understand the level of work being done by those working in quality and juxtapose that with healthcare priorities, asking the question: Is the workforce doing the work that will advance critical priorities of quality, equity, safety, healthcare value and system sustainability? NAHQ has also sought to understand if those holding the Certified Professional in Healthcare Quality® (CPHQ) certification are working at higher levels of the competency spectrum than those without the designation. Respondents included healthcare quality professionals and other individuals within healthcare organizations who have responsibility for quality and safety.

Respondents consistently report working at higher levels of the competency spectrum in the following three domains:

  • quality leadership and integration
  • regulatory and accreditation
  • patient safety 

Respondents report working less often or at lower levels of the competency spectrum in the following domains: 

  • population health and care transitions
  • performance and process improvement
  • health data analytics
  • professional engagement
  • quality review and accountability

In July 2021, the Journal for Healthcare Quality (JHQ) published a paper providing evidence that CPHQ-certified professionals perform at higher levels of the healthcare quality competency spectrum than their non-CPHQ colleagues across all eight domains of the competency framework. This was statistically significant for 13 of the 29 competencies including all three competency statements within the performance and process improvement domain. NAHQ’s certification is increasingly preferred or required by employers. 

What gives you hope for the future in healthcare?

By expanding the level and type of work being done in quality and safety, healthcare leaders can deliver coordinated, patient-centered care and drive value through improved outcomes in the long-term. Looking ahead, leveraging quality as a business strategy will be key for healthcare executives to shift from striving for compliance to striving for excellence. A quality mindset can serve to eliminate debilitating waste while creating a more reliable operating model. The time for healthcare executives to double down on quality is now.

Stephanie Mercado, CAE CPHQ
Chief Executive Officer and Executive Director
National Association for Healthcare Quality (NAHQ)