Can accreditation work as a tool for quality improvement in public health? A critical review
Public health departments play an important role in promoting and preserving the health of communities. The lack of a system to ensure their quality and accountability led to the development of a national voluntary accreditation program by Public Health Accreditation Board (PHAB). The concept that accreditation will lead to quality improvement in public health which will ultimately lead to healthy communities seems intuitive but lacks a robust body of evidence. A critical review of literature was conducted to explore if accreditation can lead to quality improvement in public health. The articles were selected from publically available databases using a specific set of criteria for inclusion, exclusion, and appraisal. To understand the relationship between accreditation and quality improvement, the potential strengths and limitations of accreditation process were evaluated. Recommendations for best practices are suggested so that public health accreditation can yield maximum benefits. A logic model framework to help depict the impact of accreditation on various levels of public health outcomes is also discussed in this thesis. The literature review shows that existing accreditation programs in other industries show limited but encouraging evidence that accreditation will improve quality and strengthen the delivery of public health services. While progress in introducing accreditation in public health can be informed by other accredited industries, the public health field has its own set of challenges. Providing incentives, creating financing strategies, and having a strong leadership will allow greater access to accreditation by all public health departments. The suggested recommendations include that continuous evaluation, public participation, systems approach, clear vision, and dynamic standards should become hallmarks of the accreditation process. Understanding the link between accreditation, quality improvement, and health outcomes will influence the successful adoption and implementation of the public health accreditation program. This review of literature suggests that accreditation is an important step in improving the quality of public health departments and in ultimately improving the health of communities. However, accreditation should be considered in an integrated system of tools and approaches to improve the public health practice. Hence, it is a means to an end - not an end unto itself.