Improve policies and procedures through continuous quality improvement.
Data is Essential
The phrase “continuous quality improvement” might seem complicated, but the idea behind it is simple -- never stop working to make things better. This concept connects to the aspirational goal of zero. When organizations aim for zero suicides they continue to improve the way they care for individuals at risk of suicide. In many ways, Zero Suicide is a journey that doesn’t end.
How can organizations improve continuously?
Like the other Zero Suicide elements, it’s impossible to provide a recipe that works for every organization, but one very important ingredient is data. Measuring suicide death and suicide attempt rates are important, but another vital part of continuous quality improvement is determining if the interventions, workflows, and procedures are working the way they are intended to.
How do you find that out? It can be helpful to start with a question (or questions).
- Are staff doing “the thing” they are trained to do (e.g., screening, assessing, safety planning, warm handoffs, providing a specific treatment)?
- Are staff doing “the thing” the way they were trained to do it (e.g., are staff asking all the questions on the screening tool, are they doing it in a collaborative manner)?
Also, questions like:
- Do clinical staff feel confident in their ability to provide collaborative and supportive suicide care for individuals at risk of suicide?
- Do the individuals served feel cared about by staff in the organization?
Next, decide what type of data is needed to answer those questions and how to collect it. Do you need numbers, words or do you need to watch someone do something? Do you need to build and run a report from the electronic health record system? Is an anonymous survey needed? Or a facilitated discussion within a team? Do staff members need to be observed as they provide an intervention?
Once data collection is complete leaders and supervisors/managers should review it and make meaning out of it. Without this step data is just numbers or words. Data, particularly numbers, are just one part of the story of the impact of workflow, procedures, or interventions on staff and individuals in care. It is important to put data into perspective. This step supports a Just Culture by focusing on the system instead of the individual.
After meaning is made from the data, aggregate data should be shared with staff. After that, develop plans to improve the processes, workflow, and/or interventions.
In addition to suicide death and suicide attempt rates, Zero Suicide organizations should measure, evaluate, and improve outcomes, workflow, policies, and processes around things like:
- Training plans
- Screening, assessing, and risk determination
- Safety planning
- Means safety counseling
- Suicide care pathway
- Care transition processes and interventions
- Suicide death and suicide attempt review process
- Postvention activities
- Confidence and competence of staff
What is our plan for evaluating the interventions, workflows, and policies we have implemented? What kinds of data do we need to collect to answer our evaluation questions?
Fidelity and Sustainability
Fidelity and sustainability are important for any implementation. Once a workflow, procedure, policy, or intervention are implemented we want to make sure that they are continued (sustainability) and done the way they are supposed to be done (fidelity).
Fidelity: What is being measured?
First, assessing fidelity depends on what is being measured -- policy, procedure, workflow, or evidence-based intervention or treatment. Some interventions and treatments have been shown to work if they are provided in a specific way (e.g., screening tool, safety plan, therapeutic intervention). Many policies and protocols include specific steps to be followed. For those, fidelity is measured by how well staff follow the instructions. Workflows and procedures might have less structure and depend on the setting, staff member, or individual in care. Measurement of fidelity in this circumstance might be less structured.
There are two “buckets” to fidelity. One bucket is whether “the thing” is being done at all (the workflow, procedure, intervention/treatment). This information is often gathered from a report in the electronic health record (e.g., how many screenings have been done, how many safety plans have been done).
The other bucket is how “the thing” is being done. Are staff doing the safety plan collaboratively with the individual? Are staff using validation, empathy, and neutral verbal and body language while screening for suicide risk? These are often measured through self-report or observation.
Fidelity should also be used as part of the continuous quality improvement cycle. If staff members are not able to maintain fidelity to an intervention, policy, or workflow it should be evaluated to see if staff need additional support (e.g., refresher training, reminders) or if the intervention, policy, or workflow needs to be adapted to the population, setting, or circumstances (retaining the core components of the evidence-based intervention/treatment).
Once adaptations are made, fidelity should continue to be measured and evaluated. All should be done within a Just Culture, where the system takes responsibility for improving processes, workflows, and policies rather than blaming staff. Fidelity processes should include input from staff who are providing the intervention, doing the workflow, or fulfilling the policy.
Return to the Organizational Self-Study
The Organizational Self-Study is a tool that can be used to measure overall fidelity to the Zero Suicide Framework. It is recommended to do the OSS at the beginning of implementation and then annually.
Used alone, the results of the self-study will show where an organization’s suicide care practices are already effective and where they can be strengthened, which will inform the overall work plan. Completing the self-study every year will tell you and your organization how well you are adhering to the Zero Suicide model and point out the next areas that need strengthening.
Sustainability: Keep it Going
Once an organization invests in a large initiative like Zero Suicide it’s important to continue it. Organizations might focus on starting Zero Suicide and not focus on how to sustain it until after implementation resources (often grant funding) have ended.
Implementation scientists recommend teams plan for sustainability at the same time they plan for implementation. This can translate into “how do we get started and how do we keep it going?”
Planning for sustainability is important because often the benefits of an evidence-based intervention aren’t realized for many years after initial implementation.
Sustainability planning connects to continuous quality improvement because the cycle of measure, evaluate, and review helps maintain the Zero Suicide workflows, procedures, and interventions that were implemented.
In creating an evaluation plan for a Zero Suicide initiative, the implementation team should:
- Identify patient-care outcomes that indicate that systems and policy changes may be having the desired effect on actual practice.
- Assess care outcomes for all patients who have a suicide care management plan.
- Develop, review, and improve efforts for collecting data on suicide attempts and deaths for those in care.
- Assess the experience and satisfaction of patients who are or have been engaged in a suicide care management plan.
Data Elements Worksheet
To assist in this process, the Zero Suicide Data Elements Worksheet provides suggestions for what data elements to measure in an evaluation plan. These include:
- Safety plan development
- Lethal means counseling
- Missed appointment follow-up
- Acute care transition
The Data Elements Worksheet suggests additional rates that are useful for health and behavioral health care organizations to examine, if possible:
- ED usage
- Inpatient admissions
- Number of suicide attempts among all patients
- Number of suicide attempts among patients with identified risk
- Suicide among all patients
- Suicide among patients with identified suicide risk
The Data Elements Worksheet includes a description of each measure, including guidance as to how to measure.
Apply Data-Driven Quality Improvement
The basic next step to measure improvements in the quality of suicide care is to:
- Enlist the implementation team in developing an evaluation plan, including a plan to evaluate progress, using the Organizational Self-Study, and measure results, using the Zero Suicide Data Elements Worksheet.
Planning Next Steps
There are several additional items to help you plan these next actions:
Quick Guide to Getting Started with Zero Suicide
This one-page tool lists ten actions you can take to start implementation of Zero Suicide.
Getting Further with Zero Suicide
This tool lists several actions you can take if you have been implementing Zero Suicide for a while and are not sure what to do next or need help taking your Zero Suicide work a little further.
Zero Suicide Organizational Self-Study
Every organization should complete the self-study as one of the first steps in adopting a Zero Suicide approach. While the self-study is available in the Lead section of the Zero Suicide online toolkit, it’s provided again here for your convenience.
Zero Suicide Work Plan Template
This form contains an expanded list of action steps to guide your implementation team in creating a full work plan to improve care and service delivery in each of the seven core Zero Suicide components.
Recommendations for Improving Data Collection and Data Definitions
This resource highlights some common questions related to data collection and offers recommendations for improving data collection systems and data definitions. Use this tool to inform discussions about data priorities, data infrastructure needs, and defining quality improvement metrics.