The quality improvement model currently used in medicine and mental health was adopted from industry, where it developed out of early 20th-century efforts to apply a positivist/quantitative agenda to improving manufacturing. This article questions the application of this model to mental health care. It argues that (1) developing "operational definitions" for something as value-laden as "quality" risks conflating two realms, what we measure with what we value; (2) when measurements that are tied to individuals are aggregated to establish benchmarks and goals, unwarranted mathematical assumptions are made; (3) choosing clinical outcomes is problematic; (4) there is little relationship between process measures and clinical outcomes; and (5) since changes in quality indices do not relate to improved clinical care, management's reliance on such indices provides an illusory sense of control. An alternative model is the older, skill-based/qualitative approach to knowing, which relies on "implicit/ expert" knowledge. These two approaches offer a series of contrasts: quality versus excellence, competence versus expertise, management versus leadership, extrinsic versus intrinsic rewards. The article concludes that we need not totally dispense with the current quality improvement model, but rather should balance quantitative efforts with the older qualitative approach in a mixed methods model.


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pp. 409-434
Launched on MUSE
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