Our story

The history of the Saskatchewan Health Quality Council

Established in 2002 as the first organization of its kind in Canada, the Health Quality Council (HQC) has worked with patients and families, clinicians, administrators, researchers, students, and quality improvement specialists to accelerate improvement in the quality of health and health care in Saskatchewan. 

The past few decades have been an exciting journey. While our objects outlined in the Health Quality Council Act have remained constant, the ways we support our partners have changed over the years. Explore the timeline below to read about some of the highlights.

Thumbnail of cover of Caring for Medicare Commission on Medicare Kenneth J. Fyke

The Health Quality Council: The beginning

Saskatchewan’s journey into healthcare improvement began in 2001 with the Saskatchewan Commission on Medicare’s release of a report called Caring for Medicare – Sustaining a Quality System, led by Kenneth J. Fyke. The report proposed a profound transformation of the health care culture of Saskatchewan. Among other recommendations, the report identified the need for a council to monitor the quality of health care in the province. As a result, Canada’s first health quality council was created in Saskatchewan in 2002. 

The Health Quality Council through the years

In the early years, the Health Quality Council’s primary goal was to build a case for why Saskatchewan needed to focus on quality. With this perspective, we conducted administrative data analyses to understand how the health system was performing and produced reports to illustrate the gaps in quality the system was facing. The Health Quality Council also supported the development of infrastructure to support dedicated and ongoing improvement efforts in the former health regions and took a lead role in building capacity for staff working in these dedicated quality improvement departments. Throughout this period, we identified high-performing health care systems from around the world to learn from their approaches to delivering high-quality care with a goal of bringing those learnings and best practices back to Saskatchewan.

With a foundation for quality improvement in Saskatchewan established, the Health Quality Council progressed towards building a strong foundation in improvement science and methods across multiple levels in the health care system. This involved providing tools and training for leadership development, clinician engagement, and measurement infrastructure, all of which combined would help organizations build their own capacity for quality improvement. 

Timeline of highlights

The following are some of the Health Quality Council’s milestones as we have worked to accelerate the improvement of health and health care across Saskatchewan:

2003 – HQC secures an initial Data Sharing Agreement with Saskatchewan Health

In 2003, the Health Quality Council secured an initial Data Sharing Agreement with Saskatchewan Health. This was a historic event, because access to this level and breadth of administrative data had never been provided before in the province. With this data we were able to link various data sources (e.g. drug usage, hospitalization, physician billing, health care coverage) to identify areas for improvement within the province.  Access to this data was a landmark event that helped the province move closer to using real-time data to drive improvement efforts and decision-making.   

2004 – HQC releases its first Quality of Care Report

In 2004, the Health Quality Council released our first Quality of Care Report – 13 more will follow over the next six years. These reports examined the quality of various aspects of care in the province. With each report, we shared our findings with stakeholders and then worked with them to identify opportunities to improve the quality of care.  

2004 – HQC launches the province’s first Patient Experience Survey

In 2004, in partnership with all the former Saskatchewan health regions, we launched the province’s first Patient Experience Survey designed to give patients a voice in their care. The survey was the first instance patients across the province had been asked what they thought about their care. Starting to measure and understand the patient experience was integral to moving toward patient-centred care in Saskatchewan. This ensured the system focused improvement efforts in areas that were most important to patients. 

2005-2008 – HQC launches a series of Collaboratives with health system partners

Between 2005 and 2008, we applied the Institute for Healthcare Improvement’s Breakthrough Series Collaboratives with health system partners to help make “breakthrough” improvements in quality while reducing costs. One of the most significant Collaboratives the Health Quality Council led was the Chronic Disease Management Collaborative which involved approximately 15,000 people living with diabetes and coronary artery disease, 13 regional health authorities, more than 25% of all family physicians, and hundreds of other health care workers, including nurse practitioners, nurses, educators, pharmacists, dietitians, and First Nations and Métis groups. Together we focused on improving diabetes and coronary artery disease care and using clinical practice redesign to improve access to family physician visits. 

Collaborative is a learn-by-doing approach to quality improvement. It brings together practitioners from various disciplines and multiple sites to learn and share ideas on improving their practices, based on evidence-based research.  Collaboratives involve a combination of theory and hands-on practice that help participants work to address challenges in their work environments while also building capacity for quality improvement methodology. Collaboratives have been used across the world to target complex, large-scale changes across a variety of organizations. 

2007 – HQC signs a Master Data Sharing Agreement with the Ministry of Health

In 2007, a Master Data Sharing Agreement was signed between the Health Quality Council and the Ministry of Health.  This development helped decrease lead time to access data and helped us access an increasing number of databases, variables, and years available to inform our measurement, analysis, and research. 

2008-2010 – HQC supports the health care system with the Quality as a Business Strategy Learning Collaborative

From 2008 to 2010, we supported the health care system through the Quality as a Business Strategy Learning Collaborative. This leadership program brought together approximately 200 senior managers and board members from 31 organizations across the health system. Here, leaders learned how to integrate management for quality into their organizations. The Collaborative also served as a forum for crucial conversations about what it meant to operate as one system and how this shift in thinking could improve patient outcomes. The outcomes of this work led to the creation of the first common Strategic Intent as a system – that is still used today – including the ambition to “think and act as one.”  This ambition spurred the recognition of the need for a provincially coordinated approach to offer high-quality health care to the residents of Saskatchewan.  

2009 – Saskatchewan’s journey toward creating a culture of patient-and family-centred care was initiated by a call to action from the Patient First Review

In 2009, Saskatchewan’s journey toward creating a culture of patient-and family-centred care was initiated by a call to action from the Patient First Review: “That the health system make patient- and family-centred care the foundation and principal aim of the Saskatchewan health system.” Over the next three years, HQC collaborated with our health system partners to complete education through the Institute for Patient- and Family-Centred Care, establish a provincial framework and network, and create Patient and Family Advisor (PFA) roles to actively engage patients and families in quality improvement. This work aimed to incorporate the four pillars of patient and family-centred care that is used across Saskatchewan: dignity and respect, information sharing, participation, and collaboration. 

2010 – HQC brings together family practices and care providers for a second Chronic Disease Management Collaborative

In 2010, we brought together approximately 50 family practices and 170 other care providers such as nurse practitioners, specialists and office managers, in the second Chronic Disease Management Collaborative.  This Collaborative was aimed at improving the quality of care for people living with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and depression. Using the Institute for Healthcare Improvement’s (IHI) Learning Collaborative methodology, we supported improvement work that led to more accurate diagnosis, treatment and monitoring for thousands of patients.   

2012-2015 – HQC supports a system-wide commitment to continuous improvement learning through the development of the Lean-Improvement Leader’s Training program

From 2012 to 2015, HQC supported a system-wide commitment to continuous improvement through the adoption of Lean methodology. This represented another step toward the health care system thinking and acting as one through the development of shared improvement methods, tools, and language. HQC contributed to the sustainability of this learning by developing the Lean Improvement Leader’s Training (LILT), a program for managers, supervisors and other improvement champions who want to develop the knowledge and skills to lead their staff in applying continuous improvement methods to their work. LILT has been offered across the province since 2014, and it is still being offered today.  

2013-2018 – HQC houses the Emergency Department Waits and Patient Flow Initiative in partnership with the Ministry of Health

From 2013 to 2018, in partnership with the Ministry of Health, we housed the Emergency Department Waits and Patient Flow Initiative to reduce wait times and improve patient flow. Our researchers developed computer simulation models of how patients move through their episode of hospital care to identify key pressure points where interventions, including community-based services, would have the greatest impact on reducing wait times. These models informed the decision by government and regions to invest in developing better-coordinated care in the community and hospitals. This initiative gave rise to a new health system priority for connected care for the people of Saskatchewan. Connected care aims to reduce the historical reliance on acute care by meeting people’s care needs closer to home in their community.  

2016 – Saskatchewan adopts an “Open Family Presence” policy, ending traditional visiting hours

In 2016, Saskatchewan adopted an “Open Family Presence” policy, ending traditional visiting hours-  a change spearheaded by the Patient- and Family-Centered Care Guiding Coalition co-led by the Health Quality Council. The Guiding Coalition included patient and family advisors, staff representatives from the 13 former health regions, the Ministry of Health and other partner agencies (3sHealth, eHealth and the Saskatchewan Cancer Agency). As a result of the policy, families are recognized as partners in the patient’s care and patients can have their loved ones with them to the degree that they wish, rather than restricted to specific visiting hours.

2017 – The Health Quality Council launches its first cohort of the Clinical Quality Improvement Program

In 2017, 16 Saskatchewan doctors were the first participants in the new Clinical Quality Improvement Program, which the Health Quality Council launched in collaboration with the Saskatchewan Medical Association (SMA) and the provincial Ministry of Health. The 11-month course is designed to build capability among physicians and other clinicians for facilitating and leading successful health care improvement work in Saskatchewan. Several alumni from the program are now in leadership positions in the health system, applying a clinical quality improvement lens to how they lead within the system.  

The Health Quality Council: Looking ahead

Over the next number of years, the Health Quality Council will expand our role by collaborating with new partners who are already working to explore some of the root causes of health and wellness to improve the health and quality of life of Saskatchewan citizens. We will engage First Nations and Métis partners in hopes to contribute to their work towards improving health and wellness in First Nations and Métis communities. We will also work with human services and community-based organizations to address the social determinants of health to optimize programs and services that support the mental health and wellbeing of children, youth, and their families.