by Lyndee Knox, PhD
Practice facilitation is an approach to helping primary care practices improve the quality of care they deliver to patients. Good practice facilitation is practice-centered, meaning that you start where you’re needed and work out from there. One of my favorite stories about the practice-centered nature of facilitation was told to me by Ann LeFebvre, director of the statewide primary care facilitation program in North Carolina.
Ann was starting work with a new practice in her community. As is common at the beginning of most improvement efforts, she asked the practice what their greatest concern was at the moment. Ann expected them to tell her they were concerned about improving workflow with their electronic health records, or that they wanted to improve their performance on particular HEDIS (Healthcare Effectiveness Data and Information Set) measures, or that they wanted help engaging their patients more effectively. Instead, what they told her caught her completely by surprise.
“We’re really concerned about our patients getting to our practice.”
“Oh,” she said, “so you’re worried about access issues?”
“Well, sort of,” the staff person responded. “Recently we’ve had a flock of geese take up residence in our parking lot, and they are biting our patients when they get out of their cars to walk inside. Some of our patients are afraid to get out of their cars.”
5 Whys Tool: Click to Learn.
As an experienced facilitator, Ann understood how important it was to meet practices where they are at the current moment, not where they “should be.” So she rolled-up her sleeves and said, “Ok, let’s figure this one out.” She saw the problem of the geese as an opportunity to teach practice staff basic principles of quality improvement. She taught them to use the “5 Whys” to determine why the geese were in the parking lot in the first place, and then to use Plan-Do–Study-Act cycles (PDSA) to design and test solutions to the “goose attack” problem.
Working together, Ann and the practice discovered that a woman living next door to the practice used to keep and feed the geese. She had recently been hospitalized and because she was no longer there to feed them, the geese had moved into the practice parking lot. Staff developed a solution: to have another neighbor feed the geese – and tested this solution using a PDSA cycle. The geese left the parking lot, their patients no longer had to deal with hungry and aggressive geese in the practice parking lot, and staff had started to build capacity in quality improvement!
Practice facilitators are specially trained individuals who work with primary care practices “to make meaningful changes and develop the skills they need to adopt new clinical evidence and health service models in their work and to sustain these changes over time.” (Knox & Brach, 2011; DeWalt, et al., 2010).
The primary aim of facilitators, whether working alone or as part of team, is to build practice capacity for continuous quality improvement, as well as to strengthen practice ability to adapt and implement new evidence-based treatments and health service models.
Facilitation teams develop long-term relationships with practices. They may work with a practice intensively for 6 to 10 months to implement a specific improvement and then step back for a while. Even though the active facilitation project has ended, they will check-in with the practice every month or two to monitor progress and maintain relationships until they are needed to support another significant improvement project at the practice.
While facilitation can be provided by a single individual, (a “practice facilitator”) it is often a “team sport.” The facilitation team is usually led by an individual with expertise in quality improvement processes and methods. This person serves as the team leader and primary point of contact with the practice, and brings in his or her team mates to help the practice as needed.
Other members of the facilitation team include individuals with expertise with health IT who can help practices optimize their health IT systems to support the desired changes; team members with expertise in setting up data systems for monitoring performance; and most recently, patient partners. Academic detailers are also essential members of most facilitation teams. They possess deep knowledge about clinical topics and provide 1:1 education to clinicians to increase their knowledge about specific preventive care and treatment issues, encouraging those clinicians to change their behavior to improve patient health.
A number of excellent resources are available for training members of facilitation teams, and to guide development of a practice facilitation program. These include the PF Handbook, the National PF Curriculum, and the How to Start and Run a PF Program. Dr. Mike Fischer, the director of NaRCAD, and a team of experts in PF and practice improvement helped develop them. These and other resources that can assist you in building a practice facilitation program in your area can be accessed here.
Lyndee Knox, PhD is founding director of LA Net, a primary care practice based research and resource network established with funding from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) in 2002. LA Net supports research and innovation in the healthcare safety net in Los Angeles and provides practice facilitators to practices in its network to support practice-based, clinician and community-led research, evidence translation and practice improvement. Dr. Knox served as principal investigator on AHRQ’s Task Order 13 (TO 13) to examine the use of practice facilitators to implement the Care Model in the safety net, and convened the AHRQ Practice Facilitator Consensus Panel to summarize the state of the field as part of TO13. Most recently she led work for AHRQ to produce a manual to support formation of new practice facilitation programs across the U.S. The resulting manual, Developing and Running a Primary Care Practice Facilitation Program: A How to Guide and case studies are available on AHRQ’s website.
As director of LA Net, Lyndee has served as lead on a 2 year contract with the Greater Los Angeles Veterans Administration to create and train a cadre of internal coaches to support its primary care teamlets and PACT transformation. Currently she is working with Mathematica Policy Research to create a 30 module training curriculum for new Practice Facilitators/Coaches for the U.S. AHRQ. Dr. Knox also directs Project ECHO LA, a replication of the successful quality improvement and clinical education intervention from the University of New Mexico aimed at increasing access to specialty care services in rural and underserved areas. Project ECHO LA has been supporting ECHO Knowledge Networks for the LA safety net for 3 years in areas including: psychiatry, preventive care, geriatric medicine and quality improvement.
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