Friday, April 17, 2015 – It is our pleasure to honor Alex Eichman, from the Washington County Department of Public Health and Environment in Minnesota, as a public health QI Innovator. Congratulations Alex!
What makes Alex Eichman a QI Innovator?
Alex Eichman leads the Performance Improvement Team (PIT) at the Washington County Department of Public Health and Environment in Minnesota. Since the beginning of her career, she has been a leader and advocate for applying QI to public health. Alex has led innovative QI initiatives that empower employees, and she has formally integrated a QI culture into her department. She engages staff at all levels to develop user-friendly, participatory, and fun tools and processes. For example, the PIT was developed under Alex’s leadership into an energizing environment based on a motorsports “PIT stop” theme. In auto racing, the pit stop is where cars stop during a race for refueling, new tires, repairs, or mechanical adjustments from the pit crew. In the department, the PIT, just like a pit crew, is a resource to help staff make repairs and adjustments and provide new resources to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of their work. Alex has become a well-known statewide resource on QI, performance management, accreditation preparation, program evaluation, and results-based accountability. She goes out of her way to share new ideas and lessons learned with public health colleagues. Alex’s passion, enthusiasm, and captivating approach influence many to try QI tools, techniques, and philosophy.
We asked Alex to share some insights regarding challenges encountered, lessons learned, and advice about public health QI. Here's what she had to say!
Q: Describe one challenge you have encountered in conducting QI in public health and how you worked to overcome that challenge.
A: The one challenge that I have encountered was the overwhelming amount of QI information and tools that exist. I heard over and over again that staff did not know where to start, that there were too many tools to choose from, and that it would be helpful to have everything in one place. As I started to explore this issue, I found myself getting overwhelmed! Our PIT worked to develop a quick-start toolkit, the PIT KIT, which contains the seven most commonly used tools within the department, examples of each one, and facilitation tools and resources all contained in one spot. The purpose of the PIT KIT is to provide staff with ready-to-use tools to apply to their everyday work. QI tools provide a starting point for the improvement process. The toolkit was not intended to be exhaustive; it features just a few of the commonly used tools in the department.
Q: What is one key lesson you have learned in your experience implementing public health QI initiatives?
A: The one thing that has helped our department to advance our culture of QI is engaging staff at all levels in decision-making, especially the frontline staff. They are the ones doing the work, and they are the ones who know what is working well and what is not. When we find ourselves wondering what will make QI easier or more fun, we simply ask our staff to weigh in and use their input to pilot new approaches. We also engage them in our annual QI Council and QI Plan evaluation and use their feedback to measure our overall effectiveness.
Q: What advice would you give to public health practitioners who are new to QI?
A: Start small. Initially, QI can seem very overwhelming to staff who are already extremely busy and trying to do their best with what they have. Many are doing QI without actually realizing they are doing it. People learn by doing; we have had a lot of success with slowly introducing tools and resources into work that is already being done, like helping a team organize brainstormed ideas into themes with an affinity diagram, or prioritizing those themes using a prioritization matrix. Staff will use the tool and begin to see the value without being overwhelmed by learning yet another new technique or set of skills.
Congratulations, Alex! Thank you for sharing these wonderful insights, for your demonstrated leadership in public health QI, and for being a member of the PHQIX community!