Focusing on Excellence Puts the National Association for Healthcare Quality Ahead of Change 

People think of me as a fixer—the person you call to repair broken systems. And yes, I do my share of cleanups in the strategy, technology, and marketing aisles. But I’m also fortunate to have clients who look to me for advice on how to prevent accidents, keep innovation in stock, and attract new customers.

The National Association for Healthcare Quality is that kind of group. NAHQ refuses to settle for business as usual. Peak performance is their cultural imperative, and .orgSource is proud to be an ongoing partner in helping them to deliver service that meets that rigorous standard.

Other leaders can find inspiration in NAHQ’s proactive approach; So, I’m sharing my recent conversation with Jennifer Pitts, Vice President of Programs, Products, and Certification, with you. 

Committed to Quality

Founded in 1976, NAHQ is the only organization dedicated to advancing healthcare quality. It is also the sole provider of an accredited certification in this discipline, the Certified Professional in Healthcare Quality® (CPHQ).

Jennifer Pitts, Vice President. Programs, Products, and Certification, NAHQ

NAHQ’s 9,000 members work in vastly different settings. Whether they are employed by a hospital, the government, or an academic institution, they have one common denominator. The status quo is never good enough. Their job is to ask—how can we work better, faster, and smarter? What can we do to improve outcomes and reduce costs? And, above all, how can we keep patients, in healthcare settings, safe?

“Continuous quality improvement is a core value for our members and our staff. A quality mindset permeates all NAHQ’s operations and offerings,” Jennifer advises. “Our partnership with .orgSource is one of the many ways we honor that commitment.

“Our collaboration began in 2017 with a project to develop a technology roadmap. That engagement quickly took on bigger proportions when NAHQ decided to move from an association management company to stand-alone operations,” Jennifer recalls. “Since then, our relationship with .orgSource has expanded to include strategic direction, website development, and even part-time staffing.”  

A $50 Million Mission

These are uncertain times for associations on all fronts. Economic, political, and social events are shifting. Leaders are holding their breath waiting to see what 2023 will bring. And we’ve learned that while forecasts can be helpful, even our best guesses are often unreliable. I was curious to hear what Jennifer sees as significant future challenges for her group.

“Our CEO, Stephanie Mercado, likes to say this,” Jennifer replied. “We’re a $10 million organization with a $50 million mission. In other words, we struggle to have the resources to invest in the future as fast as we need to. Budgets are tightening across healthcare and other industries. Our products and services could not be more relevant. But we need the horsepower to drive them forward at top speed. As we continue to grow, financing and finding the right talent will be an ongoing priority.

“There are enormous challenges across the healthcare industry. Leaders are facing problems that didn’t exist before the pandemic. Gains we’ve been working on for years in quality and safety, performance measures, and patient outcomes lost momentum coming out of COVID,” Jennifer notes.

“Along with workforce burnout, healthcare providers are facing structural, financial, and supply chain issues. Our members have a growing role to play in putting their organizations on track for a new future environment. Our goal is to move quality beyond being a department or cost center to become a significant business strategy.”    

Virtual by Design

That forward-looking perspective kept the organization on solid footing during the pandemic so that it could be a source of stability for members. Virtual activities were already second nature.

“We knew from surveys that our people prefer virtual learning,” Jennifer observes. “It makes professional development easy and accessible. Even before COVID, our attendance numbers were growing exponentially on our virtual offerings. So, we were already looking at moving to an exclusively online meeting format.”

Jane Pearson, .orgSource Vice President of Marketing and Communication Services, recalls her experience at NAHQ’s 2018 annual meeting. “I had the pleasure of helping with marketing this hybrid event, and I was blown away by how professional it was compared to other online conferences. You felt as though you were in the room with the speakers.”

“Now, we’ve doubled down on virtual learning,” Jennifer notes. “We are also focused on delivering excellent customer experiences. Whether it’s a webinar, digital event, or CPHQ prep course, we strive for delight each time members engage with us. That attention to detail has paid off. Over 3,000 people registered for our Health Care Quality Week webinar series.”

NAHQ Next—Curated for Value

Familiarity with digital platforms meant that NAHQ Next, the organization’s annual meeting, easily made the leap from hybrid to virtual without any sacrifice in excitement.

The NAHQ staff

“NAHQ Next is a two-and-a-half day fully virtual conference,” Jennifer advised. “It is the association’s primary opportunity to demonstrate our expertise to the healthcare industry. The event, which is highly curated and meticulously produced, combines learning, networking, and fun.

“Our main stage showcases pre-recorded content,” Jennifer notes. “Then, we feature live question-and-answer sessions with the speakers. To ensure that the experience is seamless, we ask presenters to wear the same clothing they were wearing for the recording at the Q&A.

“Each day of the event is themed. Day one topics include organizational issues like leadership. Day two, or Work in Action, is focused on operational activities. Presenters might discuss the relationships between quality and supply chain or quality and behavioral health. We provide practical tips that people can use in the workplace. The third day is dedicated to career. The content is aligned with our competency framework so that our professional development program revolves around the core skills that we believe are important.

“Our group is highly engaged, and they love to have fun. This year, we featured dueling pianos at lunch and yoga in the evening. Poster presentations, on-demand sessions, and everything else you would find at an in-person meeting is available virtually. NAHQ Next is about more than education; it centers around celebrating together and discovering new ways to connect.”

Scaling Products to Needs

NAHQ still has room in the portfolio for in-person activities, but they are taking a new approach to those initiatives. “There’s always a time and place for people to connect in person. We are looking to organize smaller activities,” Jennifer says. “People want to network, but that was not a large part of our revenue to begin with. The numbers validate our decision to continue doing what we do best. In 2021, we had about 2,000 attendees at NAHQ Next. This year, we had 5,000 participants.”

With so much going well, I asked Jennifer what she sees on the horizon. “Our future is bright. Over the last few years, we’ve united a field that didn’t previously have a centralized focus. In 2019 we released our Healthcare Quality Competency Framework. We’re doing exactly what associations were organized to do—bring people together to collaborate and set the highest professional standards for their work.

“Today we serve both individuals and organizations. We help groups assess their quality and safety status and identify skill gaps. Then we provide them with a plan to improve operations. We are building products and services that employers will demand because they need to bring their people up to speed quickly and they trust NAHQ to provide the best tools.” 

Peak Performance Welcomes Change

I frequently write about the benefit of an entrepreneurial approach in business and leadership. Quality improvement is inherently innovative. Peak performance demands that you stay ahead of the marketplace. That forward-looking perspective has a lot to do with NAHQ’s success.

“Change is part of our culture,” Jennifer observes. “Our members are passionate about growth and improvement. We believe in high performance, accountability, and impact. Every initiative is an opportunity to do better.  The association industry tends to fall back on tradition. NAHQ recognizes tradition while also keeping our eyes on the horizon and the needs of the workforce.”

I’m glad to see that Jennifer’s message is being embraced by more organizations in our community. Volunteers and staff are giving creative problem-solving a bigger seat at the table. I’m always happy to be a fixer and repair a broken system, but my passion lies in helping leaders avoid those pitfalls and discover success.

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