Guide to Healthcare Quality & Patient Safety Certifications
Healthcare quality is an umbrella term that encompasses all the processes, knowledge-sets, competencies, and professional skills focused on ensuring care is safe and effective. Care should also center around the patient, be delivered in a timely manner, and be accessible in an equitable way. More simply, healthcare quality is concerned with creating improvements in the system that ensure patients can access customized and effective care that is systemically cost-effective.
There are certain professionals who choose to engage with healthcare quality with intentionality or through leadership behaviors. According to the National Association for Healthcare Quality (NAHQ), healthcare quality professionals are those who enhance the delivery of care, improve patient outcomes, and optimize the cost of care. They achieve this through leadership in regard to patient safety, regulation and accreditation, improved data analytics, and an understanding of population health.
Professional certification is the process by which any professionals, including those in healthcare, voluntarily choose to demonstrate proficiency in their craft through specialized training, followed by passing exams focused on essential knowledge-sets or skills. Because formalized training and professional experience create a wide range of variability upon which to judge a job candidate, professional certification is useful to employers in that it provides a universalized set of standards against which to judge the quality of candidate proficiency.
Healthcare quality certifications are available to clinicians (RNs, NPs, MDs, etc.), non-clinicians, administrators, and support staff. Regardless of one’s role in the healthcare arena, pursuing certification can lead to promotions or greater responsibility, higher salaries, and stronger presence in the job market.
The Difference Between Certificate and Certification
Although functionally, healthcare quality certificates and certifications offer professionals the ability to hone knowledge and skills in regard to improving the healthcare system, there is a distinction between the two.
Healthcare quality certificate programs are offered by universities at the post-baccalaureate or post-graduate level. The subject matter is determined by each university; no two certificate programs are the same; and within a certificate program, there is often flexibility in terms of courses a student can take to fulfill requirements. At completion, graduates receive a certificate, which is similar in function to a degree or diploma. While some certificate programs are specifically designed to help graduates sit for certification exams, they do not lead to certification on their own.
Certification is offered by non-academic organizations that focus on researching and compiling universal professional competencies within the general healthcare quality arena or within a specific sub-discipline of healthcare quality.
Generalized Healthcare Quality Certification
The most common of the HQCs, a generalized healthcare quality certification is an indication that a healthcare quality professional is capable of performing job functions related to a wide range of healthcare quality measures.
For example, those earning certifications through the National Association for Healthcare Quality (NAHQ) are expected to have healthcare quality expertise in performance and process improvement, care coordination, population health, patient safety, risk management, compliance, and data analytics, measurement, and analysis.
Generalist HCQ certifications prove that a professional understands the breadth of the ecosystem of healthcare quality. Although many of these certifications stress that those who earn certification will be capable of management, even non-management professionals can pursue these to benefit their careers and the institutions at which they are employed.
While the NAHQ is a major force in HCQ certification, there are other organizations offering generalized certifications. The American Board of Quality Assurance and Utilization Review Physicians (ABQAURP) provides a Health Care Quality and Management Certification that the National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME) administers. It is geared toward physicians, nurses, and those who work closely with these types of clinicians.
The Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) offers a basic certification in quality and safety that includes topics in improvement capability, patient safety, leadership, and person- and family-centered care.
The American Institute for Healthcare Quality (AIHQ) offers certification in healthcare quality that includes a broad overview of healthcare quality, including a comparison to other healthcare systems across the globe.
Patient Safety Certification
Patient safety is the process by which healthcare organizations ensure patients are protected from preventable negative outcomes including injuries, infections, errors, and accidents. Patient safety certifications ensure professionals have adequate competency to apply practical strategies for improving conditions for safety.
Topics for patient safety certifications include understanding the scope and scale of risk, involving patients in safety, creating teams that foster safety and communication with one another and with patients, and using quantitative skills (measurement, compliance monitoring systems, reporting, etc). Patient safety certifications are available from organizations including the Institue for Healthcare Improvement (IHI), the International Board for Certification of Safety Managers (IBFCSM), the American Institute for Healthcare Quality (AIHQ), and the American Institute for Healthcare Management (AMIHM).
Patient Safety Officer Certification
Patient safety officers are healthcare professionals who utilize data, global perspective on healthcare, communication skills, knowledge about patient safety standards and regulatory requirements, and change management skills to bring patient safety programs to healthcare organizations or improve patient safety programs that already exist within healthcare organizations.
The main difference between a patient safety certification and patient safety officer certification is program design and how to engage whole systems and organizations in design. Patient safety officer certifications are available from AIHQ and IBFCSM.
Infection Control Certification
Controlling infections within healthcare settings is a major part of healthcare quality. Proper infection control protects patients and providers, diminishes the capacity for pathogens to evolve into treatment-resistant superbugs, reduces the cost of care, and prevents infections from spreading into the greater community.
Earning a certification in infection control is an indication that healthcare professional understands common healthcare infections and how they spread, best practices for preventing infection, and the organization of an infection control program.
AIHQ, the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC), and the Certification Board of Infection Control and Epidemiology, Inc. (CBIC) all offer certification in infection control.
Medication Safety Officer Certification
Similar in scope to a patient safety officer, the main role of a medication safety officer is to reduce the risk of mortality and injuries related to medication use through the creation or improvement of medication safety programs. Earning certification requires professionals to prove competency in topics including medication errors, prescription safety, administration safety, patient errors, compliance, staff training, medication management including transport, storing, and labeling, and medicines evaluation.
Organizations offering certifications for medical safety officers include AIHQ and AMIHM.
Patient Experience Professional Certification
Using a foundation of patient safety, a patient experience professional has the same roles as all other health quality professionals in improving care, reducing costs, and preventing errors. The lens through which a patient experience professional contributes to healthcare quality specifically through patient engagement.
Certified patient experience professionals have proven skills in partnership and advocacy, the design of patient experience programs, high-level communication and customer service skills, and a capacity for leadership, specifically in empowering patients to make informed and autonomous choices about their care.
Certification organizations offering exams include AIHQ and the Patient Experience Institute (PXI).
Facility Safety Officer Certification
The facilities in which healthcare is delivered are a vital component of delivering quality care to patients. Facility safety officers cultivate the expertise necessary to manage physical safety within buildings, security teams and technology, waste and hazardous materials management, equipment maintenance and repair, emergency preparations, and disaster readiness. Facility safety officers must also cultivate leadership and delegation skills, prepare for inspections, ensure compliance, and coordinate quality improvement strategies.
AIHQ and AMIHM provide general certifications for facility safety officers. Sub specializations within facility safety officiating exist as well. For example, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) offers healthcare facility managers the opportunity to become Certified Life Safety Specialists (CLSS-HC). This specialized certification helps those concerned with facility safety to understand the main life challenges that arise in healthcare facilities.
Professional Compliance Officer Certification
The healthcare industry is mediated by a vast web of laws, regulations, rules, and guidelines, and it is the purpose of a compliance officer to ensure that their healthcare organization operates within the scope of these boundaries.
In addition to understanding regulations, compliance officers create programs, which may include implementing internal compliance reviews, preparing for external audits, and engaging in risk assessment. Depending on the size of the practice, compliance officers are responsible for either educating staff about practices for compliance or managing full compliance teams who ensure that every aspect of a larger-scale healthcare facility is operating within the scope of compliance.
Every healthcare facility must have a compliance program as per the regulations within the Affordable Care Act, and compliance officers are the professionals who create them. Certification organizations offering certifications for compliance officers include the Healthcare Compliance Association (HCCA) and the American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC).
Professional in Healthcare Performance Improvement Certification
Evidence-based, data-driven decision making is an instrumental part of cultivating quality in healthcare. With most healthcare organizations using electronic medical records systems, there is data in abundance. However, with most EMRs providing non-specific reporting, a healthcare performance improvement (HPI) professional is there to idealize custom systems by which collected data is analyzed and used to create consistent healthcare outcomes and create plans for systemic improvement.
In addition to data-focused initiatives, healthcare performance improvement professionals also have a high-level understanding of interpersonal, management, and organizational methodologies (Six Sigma, FOCUS-PDCA, etc) that can be used for systems improvement. Organizations that certify professionals in healthcare performance improvement include AIHQ (HPI-specific certification and Six Sigma Green Belt) and AMIHM.
Additional Healthcare Quality Certifications Offered by IBFCSM
In addition to those listed above, the International Board for Certification of Safety Managers (IBFCSM), offers several unique healthcare safety certifications including:
- Long Term Care Certification
- Environmental Services Certification
- Healthcare Safety Nursing Certification
- Healthcare Fire Safety Professional Certification
- Healthcare Emergency Professional Certification
- Hazard Control Manager Security Certification
- Hazard Control Manager Certification