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QI for the First Opinion Vet

The third in a series on developing safety in general practice from Catherine Auden at VetLed

There’s plenty of anecdotal data to suggest that Quality Streets go down well (and fast) in veterinary practice, but is the same zeal and candour possible for Quality Improvement?

Frankly I’m not sure there are many people who read the phrase “Quality Improvement” and think how thrilling that sounds. Well if you read my first post this week on clinical governance then I’m sure you’ll be equally excited by this follow up.

The question remains: why is Quality Improvement important to me as a general practice vet?

If you want to provide a top level service, and who doesn’t, then QI is integral to your desires. Measures should be set in place to ensure we are continually improving to be the best that we can be. QI then monitors changes implemented so we can demonstrate (to our team and our clients!) that we are meeting current top level standards in the profession and that measurable change really has occurred.

QI ensures that staff are consistently competent, using evidence-based protocols, using up-to-date equipment and have access to accurate up-to-date information. This doesn’t have to be an idealistic, pie-in-the-sky pipe-dream either. QI is eminently possible in general veterinary practice.

"It doesn’t matter which practice you work in or what your role is, QI is all about acknowledging what you do and working to make it better." Katie Waine, Centre for Evidence-based Veterinary Medicine

Continuous Quality Improvement can be monitored and maintained by means of self-assessment from staff, external review and patient (pet carer!) satisfaction survey. The latter can act as a reassurance for the veterinary hospital and also bring up (perhaps unseen) areas for improvement.

· Situation needing improvement is detected (this might be suggested by a member of staff or another)

· We read up on how we can improve in this area

· We implement change(s)

· We monitor and measure results to check that changes implemented are leading to quantitative and/or (in some scenarios) qualitative improvement.

· We review the change and collect feedback from staff/client/other.

It seems so simple right? So why is it not happening in veterinary practices across the country? Well, QI, despite being simple in theory, is rarely a ‘quick fix’ especially where significant cultural change is needed first! For QI to become an integral and sustained part of practice life, both senior team members and staff need to be bought in. It may be that in the short to medium term, qualitative data (staff reporting improvement in areas being targeted) is all we have. In the longer term, and with clinical audit, the quantitative data will emerge.

The workplace culture is the strong foundations upon which QI can be built from. Without an interested, enthusiastic culture led from the top, it becomes very difficult to sustain any quality improvement changes made.

But where to begin? Could practice meetings involve a 5 minute brainstorm on “What could we do better?” Involve your staff, “Where would YOU like to see improvement in our practice?”.

We are all scientists at heart and love to see tangible results, so why would we not apply this same desire to our veterinary practice workplaces too? Who wouldn’t want to work in a practice committed to ongoing and sustained improvement; a place where best patient care is not just loosely desired but where practices are consistently honed to ensure this is reliably delivered.

Could your practice reliably say that you offer best patient care based on a culture of ongoing growth and measurable quality improvement?

So why is QI important to me as a general practice vet?

If you take the quality of your service seriously, then you need to take quality improvement seriously. QI is absolutely integral to making sure your practice is providing best patient care. In a world of constant scientific improvement and growth, we as vets must lead by example in our willingness to both improve and grow!

Not sure where to begin? Why not give us a call or drop us an email (, we’d love to chat.

Cat Auden graduated from Royal (Dick) Veterinary College in 2010 and worked in both small animal and equine practice for a number of years. She takes her veterinary practice experience and passion for people into her current role having diversified into the growing field of veterinary human factors. As Head of Collaboration for VetLed, Cat works to develop the performance of veterinary teams across the country through an understanding of Human Factors. She is delighted to also be part of the VetMINDS team working to support employers and employees suffering pregnancy loss. Out of work Cat likes spending time in the great outdoors with her young, energetic family and mischievous Border Terrier.

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