Developing Clear Aim Statements

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The Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) held its 20th Annual National Forum on Quality Improvement in Health Care in Nashville, TN this week. Thousands of healthcare leaders from across the globe were on-site and thousands more watched virtually from afar to learn about how to fundamentally change the way patients are served by applying process improvement concepts in the clinical setting. The energy was contagious.

In conjunction with the conference, an improvement clinic was hosted where people leading change in their home organizations could could visit with improvement advisors to discuss process improvement efforts and be coached on how to improve their efforts. One of the key discussions in each coaching session centered on creating a clear and effective aim statement.

Aim statements are very specific declarations of what a team will be focusing on as they strive to improve a process or a system. In general, they should include a few key elements, such as:

  1. the system to be improved and the population,
  2. a numerical goal (preferably an ambitious "stretch" goal), and
  3. a time frame (e.g., by St. Patrick's Day or within 6 months)

An example of an aim statement might look like…

"Reduce the time from 9-1-1 call to intervention by 50% for all emergent cardiac patients with ST-Elevation Myocardial Infarctions (STEMI) by June 1, 2009."

"Seat every customer at their table within 10 minutes of checking in with the restaurant hostess within 30 days."

Note how the statements provide clear, specific focus for the improvement goal. Developing effective aim statements are important for individuals and teams striving to make significant improvements. As you embark on any effort to change a process for the better, take the time to sketch out and clarify a solid aim statement, revisit it throughout the project to remind you of your goal, and refine it if appropriate. It's a simple step that can be essential to the degree of the improvement effort's success.