Leveraging quality improvement through use of the Systems Assessment Tool in Indigenous primary health care services: A mixed methods study

Frances C. Cunningham, Sue Ferguson-Hill, Veronica Matthews, Ross Bailie

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Background: Assessment of the quality of primary health care health delivery systems is a vital part of continuous quality improvement (CQI) processes. The Systems Assessment Tool (SAT) was designed to support Indigenous PHC services in assessing and improving their health care systems. It was based on the Assessment of Chronic Illness Care scale, and on practical experience with applying systems assessments in quality improvement in Indigenous primary health care. We describe the development and application of the SAT, report on a survey to assess the utility of the SAT and review the use of the SAT in other CQI research programs. 

Methods: The mixed methods approach involved a review of documents and internal reports relating to experience with use of the SAT since its development in 2002 and a survey of key informants on their experience with using the SAT. 

Results: The paper drew from documents and internal reports to describe the SAT development and application in primary health care services from 2002 to 2014. Survey feedback highlighted the benefit to the whole primary health care team from participating in the SAT, bringing to light issues that might not emerge with separate individual tool completion. A majority of respondents reported changes in their health centres as a result of using the SAT. Good organisational and management support assisted with ensuring allocation of time and resources for SAT conduct. Respondents identified the importance of having a skilled, external facilitator. 

Conclusions: Originally designed as a measurement tool, the SAT rapidly evolved to become an important development tool, assisting teams in learning about primary health care system functioning, applying best practice and contributing to team strengthening. It is valued by primary health care centres as a lever in implementing improvements to strengthen centre delivery systems, and has potential for further adaptation and wider application in Australia and internationally.

Original languageEnglish
Article number583
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalBMC Health Services Research
Publication statusPublished - 18 Oct 2016


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