Evidence-based expert: Quality improvement vs. research: Are they the same?

Staff Development Weekly: Insight on Evidence-Based Practice in Education, November 21, 2008

This week's experts, Suzanne C. Beyea, RN, PhD, FAAN, and Mary Jo Slatterly, RN, MS, explain the difference between quality improvement projects and research projects.

Q. Are quality improvement projects the same as research projects?

A. Many have asked this. They are not. In clinical practice, these efforts may seem similar in that, for example, both may seek answers to clinical problems and use similar data collection and analysis methods. However, factors that may differ include participant or subject recruitment, the study's methods, and how the results are used.

For example, in most quality improvement activities, the participants generally are the patients within a specific clinical microsystem. In research efforts, the investigator recruits human subjects using approaches that will ensure a representative sample of the population. In many improvement activities, the intervention may change as it is evaluated, whereas in a research study the treatment or intervention remains the same.

Furthermore, in most quality improvement initiatives, the healthcare team is trying to solve a problem in a particular setting instead of trying to generalize the results of the study to other settings and populations. Although it might be helpful to learn about the activities and experience of other improvement teams, their findings may not apply to or be appropriate in other settings or patient populations. The intent of research, however, is to develop new knowledge that can be generalized to other similar populations and clinical settings.

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