Understanding Quality Improvement Collaboratives Through an Implementation Science Lens

Catherine Rohweder, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Mary Wangen, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Molly Black, American Cancer Society, Inc.
Heather Dolinger, American Cancer Society, Inc.
Marti Wolf, North Carolina Community Health Center Association
Carey O'Reilly, North Carolina Community Health Center Association
Heather M. Brandt, University of South Carolina
Jennifer Leeman, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill


Quality improvement collaboratives (QICs) have long been used to facilitate group learning and implementation of evidence-based interventions (EBIs) in healthcare. However, few studies systematically describe implementation strategies linked to QIC success. To address this gap, we evaluated a QIC on colorectal cancer (CRC) screening in Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) by aligning standardized implementation strategies with collaborative activities and measuring implementation and effectiveness outcomes. In 2018, the American Cancer Society and North Carolina Community Health Center Association provided funding, in-person/virtual training, facilitation, and audit and feedback with the goal of building FQHC capacity to enact selected implementation strategies. The QIC evaluation plan included a pre-test/post-test single group design and mixed methods data collection. We assessed: 1) adoption, 2) engagement, 3) implementation of QI tools and CRC screening EBIs, and 4) changes in CRC screening rates. A post-collaborative focus group captured participants' perceptions of implementation strategies. Twenty-three percent of North Carolina FQHCs (9/40) participated in the collaborative. Health Center engagement was high although individual participation decreased over time. Teams completed all four QIC tools: aim statements, process maps, gap and root cause analysis, and Plan-Do-Study-Act cycles. FQHCs increased their uptake of evidence-based CRC screening interventions and rates increased 8.0% between 2017 and 2018. Focus group findings provided insights into participants' opinions regarding the feasibility and appropriateness of the implementation strategies and how they influenced outcomes. Results support the collaborative's positive impact on FQHC capacity to implement QI tools and EBIs to improve CRC screening rates.