University of Massachusetts Medical School Faculty Publications

Title

Seven propositions of the science of improvement: exploring foundations

UMMS Affiliation

Department of Quantitative Health Sciences, Division of Biostatistics and Health Services Research

Publication Date

7-1-2013

Document Type

Article

Subjects

Delivery of Health Care; History, 20th Century; *Philosophy; Quality Improvement; *Science; United States

Disciplines

Health and Medical Administration | Health Services Administration | Health Services Research

Abstract

CONTEXT: The phrase "Science of Improvement" or "Improvement Science" is commonly used today by a range of people and professions to mean different things, creating confusion to those trying to learn about improvement. In this article, we briefly define the concepts of improvement and science, and review the history of the consideration of "improvement" as a science.

METHODS: We trace key concepts and ideas in improvement to their philosophical and theoretical foundation with a focus on Deming's System of Profound Knowledge. We suggest that Deming's system has a firm association with many contemporary and historic philosophic and scientific debates and concepts. With reference to these debates and concepts, we identify 7 propositions that provide the scientific and philosophical foundation for the science of improvement.

FINDINGS: A standard view of the science of improvement does not presently exist that is grounded in the philosophical and theoretical basis of the field. The 7 propositions outlined here demonstrate the value of examining the underpinnings of improvement. This is needed to both advance the field and minimize confusion about what the phrase "science of improvement" represents. We argue that advanced scientists of improvement are those who like Deming and Shewhart can integrate ideas, concepts, and models between scientific disciplines for the purpose of developing more robust improvement models, tools, and techniques with a focus on application and problem solving in real world contexts.

CONCLUSIONS: The epistemological foundations and theoretical basis of the science of improvement and its reasoning methods need to be critically examined to ensure its continued development and relevance. If improvement efforts and projects in health care are to be characterized under the canon of science, then health care professionals engaged in quality improvement work would benefit from a standard set of core principles, a standard lexicon, and an understanding of the evolution of the science of improvement.

Keywords

epistemology, improvement science, quality improvement, science of improvement

Rights and Permissions

Citation: Qual Manag Health Care. 2013 Jul-Sep;22(3):170-86. doi: 10.1097/QMH.0b013e31829a6a15. Link to article on publisher's site

Related Resources

Link to Article in PubMed

Journal/Book/Conference Title

Quality management in health care

PubMed ID

23807130