Statistical Process Improvement
Georgetown University

Introduction to Process Improvement


Introduction to this Course

I am Dr. Alemi.  Throughout my career I have worked in the healthcare industry and in academia to improve quality of care.  This includes a stint at Veterans Administration where I was Chief of Office of Performance Improvement. I have worked with venture capital to design better and more efficient insurance companies and I have worked in academia to design new and more casual methods of quality improvement.  When I look at our healthcare system, I am totally frustrated. I cannot understand why medication errors keep occurring. I am disappointed that most people do not get antidepressant that benefits them. I find it strange that patients in emergency rooms are boarded for more than 6 hours waiting for a hospital room.  All of this tells me that the healthcare system needs to improve. We all deserve something better. The status quo will not do.

This course prepares you to use statistical process control to improve healthcare and inform improvement teams.  Statistics may seem boring, but when you consider what is at stake you quickly realize that it matters. It deserves your attention. Data helps you discipline your insights and intuitions. The course starts with an overview of process improvement and then focus on three topics:  risk assessment, control charts, and benchmarking. Speaking of data, I could not teach this course only a few years ago.  The course relies on CMS’s publicly available data on hospital performance.  A few years ago these data were not publicly available. Now they are and because of its availability, the course is radically more practical.  It is more real.

Throughout the course you will download data from Hospital Compare site and analyze the performance of real organizations.  I imagine from time to time, that a student who has finished this course shows up at an employment interview and informs the employer about the quality of their care.  It turns the table around. Take what you learn in this course to your job interview and show them how much you know about their organization.

In this course, there are extensive assignments each week.  These assignments are accompanied with web resources that show you how to do the analysis or what are the correct answers.  These assignments are designed to give you skills in doing statistical process control. You will be able to analyze data and evaluate the performance of your organization.  Interested? As T. S. Eliot says, “Let us go and make our visit.”

In order to get you the necessary data analysis skills, we ask you to analyze data.  Yes! We keep asking you to do so, repeatedly. Sure, that is time consuming and repetitive, but practice makes perfect.  Without these repetitions you may not have the confidence that you can do it. To help you, we provide the correct answers and show you videos on how to solve the problem sets.  All you have to do is to copy the steps. Learn the concept and then do it. Keep doing it until you are well versed in it.

Finally, like medical residents, the course is organized on the principle of learn one, do one, and teach one.  You learn from the instructor how to do a control chart, you do what you have learned in assignments, and you also teach at least one of the assignments. Each of you are expected to make a video teaching others how to do one of the assignments.

Introduction to First Week: Process Improvement

This week focuses on the big picture.  You will learn about how improvement efforts are organized and what happens in various phases of process improvement. We will talk about 10 steps in improvement efforts.  Some of these steps are carried out by organizational leaders to prepare the organization for change. Other steps are carried out by improvement teams. You will learn details about the culture that is conducive to process improvement.  What do I mean by culture? Well? Organizations that want to change for the better must not blame their employees; they must seek system changes and not more effort by their employees. We are not after bad apples but improving the entire basket of fruit. In improvement steps we talk about defining and solving the right problem.

Together we will learn what are good and poor problem definitions. We talk about how to use the voice of the consumer, I literally mean the recording of patient’s complaints, to get the organization to wake up to the need for change. We go on to talk about how to run efficient meetings, I am sure that you have been in those frustrating, torturous meetings that run on and on.  Lets ditch those meeting and learn how to run meetings more efficiently and connect better with each other. We will discuss what data to collect and how to verify that change has led to improvement. These are just a few steps in the 10 step process.  There is a lot to cover this week, so stay tuned. As they say, come hungry, there is a lot here.


  • Describe the role of organizational leaders in process improvement
  • Describe how interdisciplinary teams can improve care processes
  • Describe five strategies for improving the definition of a problem to be addressed by improvement teams.
  • Describe strategies for better meetings in improvement teams
  • Explain process improvement tools such as fishbone diagrams, flow charts, and storyboards.
  • Discuss the importance of using media to give voice to patient's experiences.
  • Plot a control chart using Excel

Assigned Reading

  1. Read chapter 1 in Big Data in Health Care: Statistical Analysis of Electronic Health Record Read►  
  2. Leading change Read►
  3. PDCA cycles Read►  
  4. 92 examples of process improvement efforts Read►



Instruction for Submission of Assignments: Assignments should be submitted directly on Blackboard.  In rare situations assignments can be sent directly by email to the instructor. Submission should follow these rules:

  1. We prefer that you submit your work using Jupyter Notebook HTML output. If you submit Excel/Word/SQL files answer the questions in different sheets/pages/sections.  Each section should be labeled with the question number. 
  2. All Excel cells, except the cells containing the data, must have formulas.  Do not paste the value into the cell, it must be calculated using a formula.  Even simple steps, such as adding two numbers, should be done using formulas. 
  3. Make sure that any control charts follow the visual rules below:  (1) Control limits must be in red and without markers, (2) Observed lines must have markers, (3) X and Y axis must be labeled, and (4) Charts must be linked to the data. 
  4. The first sheet/comment/section in the file should be a summary.  In the summary, you should list how your answers to the question differs from answers provided within the assignment (inside Teach One or other answers).  You must indicate for each question if your control chart is exactly the same as seen in Teach One or other formats.  For each question, you must indicate if the answers you have provided is the same as the answers supplied on the web.  If there are no answers provided, you must indicate that there were no answers available on the web to compare your answers to.

Question 1: Select your teach one assignments.  We subscribe to the principle of "Learn one, do one, teach one."  The best way to learn is to teach the topic.  At start of the course, you select a topic in the course to teach.  A week prior to the due date, you submit all assignments in the topic to the instructor. On due date, you email to all students in the class a YouTube video showing how to solve assigned homework.  Missing any of the deadlines on this assignment will lead to 10% reduction in your grade for each week of delay.  If you and others have the same topic, you can focus on different parts of the lecture or assignments. Use Blackboard discussion to indicate the topic you want to focus on. If a student has already taken the topic, it is your responsibility to negotiate how your focus will differ.  Provide your selection of what topic you will teach in this question and post the answers to all of the questions in this section to Blackboard. 

Question 2: Plot the following data, where the X axis is the time periods, the Y-axis shows the observed value, the upper control limit and the lower control limits.  Distinguish between the first seven data periods as these were collected pre-intervention.  Remaining data points were collected post intervention.  Title the chart. Create a legend that defines the name for various lines.  Make sure that the observation line has markers and the control limits have no markers.  Make portion of Upper and Lower limit lines that are post intervention dashed.  Make portion of the line that is pre-intervention straight line.  Make all Upper and Lower limit lines red. 

Question 3: In the following Table, fill in all cell values so that all indicated relationships hold. X and Y are random variables.  X with a bar above it indicates the average of X values in the column X. This problem will test your understanding of several principles related to elementary statistics and algebraic operations. Submitted your completed work as an Excel file with formulas. Data► Answer►

Question 4: You have a long term assignment to do a case study on quality of care for a patient with a specific illness at a hospital.  Provide the name of the hospital you plan to do your case study on. Give the reason why you chose this organization and how this choice will help your career or your practicum.  Provide the name of the person you plan to send your case study.  What is this person's title?  What is this person's email?  The best strategy for finding a hospital and a person within the hospital is to do Linked In (r) searches and then use the instructor's contact list to find another person in the same hospital. If you have not succeeded in completing this assignment, delay submission a few days until you have. We prefer that you do not focus on hospitals where others have focused in the past.

  • Examples of case reports More►
  • Case study description More►
  • Vivian-Jo Yu on finding a preceptor Slides►
  • Letter of introduction from the instructor to your preceptor.  Copy the  instructor in your email. Draft Email►

Question 5: Use snippets of videos from YouTube, quotes from Yelp (r) reviews, and data from Hospital Compare to define a problem in a healthcare system. Make sure that the definition of the problem follows the rules discussed in the lecture including:  (1) not blaming anyone, (2) numerically describe the gap in the desired and actual state, (3) using patient’s voices and/or quotes to accentuate the problem description.

Question 6: Please provide the URL of your LinkedIn page and indicate if you have already connected with the instructor. .

Question 7: The instructor is available by text but texts and calls are restricted by the contact on his phone.  Have you sent a text to the instructor and introduced yourself, so he can add you to his contacts and allow future calls from you.  What are the times during which you are allowed to text the instructor? 


  • History of patient safety efforts at AHRQ Read►
  • Psychology of change Read► 


Copyright 1996 Farrokh Alemi, Ph.D. Most recent revision 08/31/2022.  This page is part of the course on Statistical Process Improvement, this is the lecture on Introduction to Process Improvement.