Online Master’s in Patient Safety and Healthcare Quality Programs

For those who have worked in healthcare or are considering advancing into management, the skills and knowledge gained from a patient safety and healthcare quality program can be beneficial.

“Given the recent ‘only pay for quality performance’ outcome measures, the demand for safety science and quality training will continue to grow for the next decade,” according to Dr. Anne Gunderson, the associate dean for clinical education innovation at Georgetown University Medical Center (profiled below). She refers to recent shifts by health policymakers away from the traditional United States fee-for-service model. That model doesn’t hold healthcare providers accountable for quality or efficiency, but pays them based on the quantity and complexity of their services. In other words, there’s a financial incentive to deliver as many services as possible, irrespective of costs or health outcomes, and this influences providers.

Concerned over massive healthcare expenditures and relatively low care quality relative to other nations, policymakers have started shifting towards alternative payment models that encourage higher quality at lower costs. For example, the Affordable Care Act expands pay-for-performance programs in Medicare and encourages experimentation to evaluate effectiveness. Also, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) in 2015 started driving aggressively towards what many now call “value-based” or “quality-based” reimbursement. Rather than continuing to reward volume over care quality, CMS announced that by the end of 2018, 50 percent of fee-for-service Medicare payments would become value-based. In addition, the Healthcare Transformation Task Force, a recently formed alliance of provider groups and insurers including Blue Cross and Aetna, committed to shifting 75 percent of their contracts into value-based payment arrangements as early as 2020.

This sudden pressure to improve care quality is creating rapid growth in this new field, driving a particular demand for leaders with advanced knowledge and expertise in patient quality and safety systems. George Washington University cites job board listings from the National Association for Healthcare Quality. It includes titles such as:

  • Clinical director, quality services
  • Clinical nurse auditor
  • Compliance auditor analyst
  • Director of quality management
  • Healthcare manager
  • Healthcare quality analyst
  • Quality and safety specialist
  • Quality assurance consultant
  • Quality improvement nurse

Innovative healthcare quality and safety programs offering predominantly online curricula like those in the following profiles can offer students significant flexibility. That’s because recent instructional technology advances now provide an online educational experience equivalent to instruction on campus, yet unconstrained by distance or time. As a result, these online quality and safety programs offer opportunities to students who cannot leave jobs to attend classes on campus, or who wish to attend better out-of-state universities without the expense and hassle of relocation. Plus, for students who want to learn at their own pace, personalized online education provides an attractive alternative; motivated and gifted students, in particular, can thrive at the accelerated pace made possible by these online programs.

Online programs also save students money. Even when tuition rates are identical, the online programs can present more cost-effective alternatives to on-campus programs because of savings on costs like relocation, childcare, and transportation.

The following guide presents profiles of nine master’s in patient safety and healthcare quality degree programs offered online, seven provided entirely online, with two programs requiring brief campus visits. They include seven specialized healthcare quality and safety master’s degree programs, along with two closely-related programs: one in nursing and an MBA program.

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Professors to Know from Schools with Online Master’s in Patient Safety and Healthcare Quality Programs

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    Anne J. Gunderson, GNP, MS, EdD - Georgetown University

    Dr. Gunderson serves as the associate dean for innovation in clinical education and as a professor of medicine at Georgetown University School of Medicine. At Georgetown, she also holds an appointment as the director of the executive master’s degree program in clinical quality, safety, and leadership and serves as the assistant vice president for education, safety, and quality at MedStar Health in Columbia, MD. Her skill in strategic planning and curriculum design distinguished Dr. Gunderson’s 17 years in academic medicine. Previously, she served as associate dean for medical education at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, and developed the master of science degree in patient safety leadership at the University of Illinois College of Medicine in Chicago. The U.S. Department of Education, the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration, the D.W. Reynolds Foundation, the John A. Hartford Foundation, and several state-level grants have funded her influential research. A board-certified geriatric nurse practitioner, Dr. Gunderson holds a bachelor’s degree in nursing and a master’s degree in nursing administration from Marquette University, as well as a doctorate in educational leadership.

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    Carole Hemmelgarn, MS, MS - University of Illinois

    With 30 years of experience in the healthcare industry, Professor Hemmelgarn serves as an adjunct professor at the University of Illinois College of Medicine in Chicago teaching error science, risk, and disclosure to graduate students. Previously, she served on the faculty at the Georgetown University School of Medicine. Notably, she is involved in patient safety work across the nation and around the world. She serves on the Patient and Family Engagement Committee for Solutions for Patient Safety, and the Quality and Safety Patient and Family Advisory Council at MedStar Health in Columbia, MD. Additionally, she serves on the Patient Safety and Reliability Committee and Improving Pediatric Sepsis Outcomes Collaborative for Children’s Hospital Colorado; the Clinical Excellence Council for the Colorado Hospital Association; and the Board of Directors for the Collaborative for Accountability and Improvement. She is interested in communication and resolution programs, healthcare communication, and storytelling in healthcare. She earned a master’s degree in healthcare ethics from Creighton University before earning a master of science degree in patient safety leadership from the University of Illinois College of Medicine in Chicago.

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    Peter Pronovost, MD, PhD - Formerly Johns Hopkins University

    Time Magazine named Dr. Pronovost one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2008. A world-renowned patient safety champion and practicing critical care physician, Dr. Pronovost earned Time’s accolade for his scientific work leveraging checklists to reduce catheter-related bloodstream infections. As he explains in this inspiring video, that discovery has saved thousands of lives worldwide. Many other high-profile awards soon followed, including a 2008 MacArthur Foundation “genius grant.” Elected to the Institute of Medicine (IOM) in 2011, Dr. Pronovost serves as an advisor to the World Health Organization’s World Alliance for Patient Safety and regularly addresses the United States Congress on patient safety issues. He served as the university’s senior vice president of patient safety and quality and director of the Johns Hopkins Armstrong Institute for Patient Safety and Quality. He earned his undergraduate degree from Fairfield University, his M.D. from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, and his Ph.D. from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Notably, he recently departed JHU to join UnitedHealthcare as the senior vice president for clinical strategy, which he tweeted was a “great opportunity to improve care for millions.”

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