Quality improvement (QI) methods have been introduced to healthcare to support the delivery of care that is safe, timely, effective, efficient, equitable and cost effective. Of the many QI tools and methods, the Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) cycle is one of the few that focuses on the crux of change, the translation of ideas and intentions into action. As such, the PDSA cycle and the concept of iterative tests of change are central to many QI approaches, including the model for improvement, lean, six sigma and total quality management.
PDSA provides a structured experimental learning approach to testing changes. Previously, concerns have been raised regarding the fidelity of application of PDSA method, which may undermine learning efforts, the complexity of its use in practice, and as to the appropriateness of the PDSA method to address the significant challenges of healthcare improvement.
This article presents our reflections on the full potential of using PDSA in healthcare, but in doing so we explore the inherent complexity and multiple challenges of executing PDSA well. Ultimately, we argue that the problem with PDSA is the oversimplification of the method as it has been translated into healthcare and the failure to invest in a rigorous and tailored application of the approach.