Health care: Standards ensure quality

Standards raise professionalism

Everyone has the right to the highest attainable standard of health. That understandable demand was already laid down in the Human Rights Declaration in 1948. However, opinions tend to differ sharply on how this right is to be ensured. Hence, the topic of quality in health care is a perennial issue of political debates.

The European Union's health policy guarantees the right to the same high health care standards and access to high-quality health services for all European citizens. National, European and international standards ensure quality standards and that the necessary services are offered and provided in line with the state of the art.

Standards highlight potentials

Elisabeth Richter

Compliance with standards supports this aim in multiple ways according to the Viennese management consultant Elisabeth Richter who specializes in health care: "Bringing enterprises and processes in line with standards results in more professionalism. This benefits not only quality but also corporate culture and corporate performance. In the context of workflow analysis, definition and evaluation as well as quality control and reporting, fundamental questions arise again and again. The answers to them frequently offer considerable potential for innovation and development for organizations whose exploitation is worthwhile."

In the past, concepts such as service quality and innovativeness were not necessarily associated with health care systems. In recent years, however, management instruments were increasingly introduced in health care and have contributed to optimizing existing structures. "The fact that medical and health care institutions always have to do with people requires a particularly high level of sensitivity – also when it comes to the application and introduction of standards," Elisabeth Richter describes her experiences as a consultant and auditor.

New standard on health care services

Not least for this reason, a special standard on health care services was published last year. ÖNORM EN 15224 builds on the quality management standard ISO 9001 that has proven well in many fields and provides sector-specific guidance for all organizations offering health care services. The requirements to be met by clinical processes, personnel qualifications and competences, risk management and quality management systems are adjusted to the special needs in this field.

To ensure patient care at the highest competence levels, the standard also specifies how staff competences and qualifications are to be managed. In addition to this service standard, there are numerous other standards focusing on individual procedures and therapies, medical devices, packaging of drugs as well as hygiene requirements that increasingly deal with qualitative aspects going beyond functional requirements.

Stringent requirements for products and services

The application and implementation of such quality standards always raises the question how an optimum environment can be created for them. As the requirements for health care products and services are significantly higher than in other industries, the issue of change management is of particularly great importance. Corporate culture has to be reviewed, and the suitable environment and the right speed of change have to be identified.

Moreover, consideration has to be given to a complex network of relationships between stakeholders – from patients and their families to the different professions involved (medical, nursing and administrative staff) and other parties interested (enterprises, society, the media) –, who need an optimized organizational structure for fulfilling their tasks. In particular, the aspect of organizational structure offers remarkable potentials for service quality. While health care institutions usually were organized along existing functional areas in the past, the introduction of standards also offers the opportunity to implement a new model – e.g. a process-oriented approach geared to patient needs.    

Sustainably and responsibility

Today, there is hardly a business plan that does not refer to the key areas of sustainability and compliance. States, organizations and individuals increasingly have to consider impacts that may result from their actions and are accountable for those consequences. Therefore, it is all the more important – especially in health care –, to manage risks and their impacts in a deliberate, responsible and forward looking manner. Standards and rules support the systematic identification and management of risks and, thus, help once more in raising the quality of the services provided.

Competitive advantages owing to standards

Used properly, standards can help to raise appreciably the structural quality of institutions as well as processes and outcomes in the field of health care. Standards minimize risks, make processes more transparent and foster the targeted exchange of information between all the parties involved. "Standards definitely also result in economic advantages," says Elisabeth Richter, "as they serve as an independent basis for certification evidencing the quality of services and products in the medical field and, thus, can be decisive for economic success."

Author: Herbert Hirner

Elisabeth Richter provides support in the implementation of management systems and audits in the fields of health care, life sciences, pharmaceuticals, chemistry and services.
Dipl.-Ing. Elisabeth Richter
Management consultancy, audits, training
Tel.: +43 699 1273 0269,
E-mail: richter(at)

PR ID: 0657-2013-07-24 / health_care_services