How is return on investment from quality improvement programmes conceptualised by mental healthcare leaders and why: a qualitative study

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Return on Investment (ROI), whereby the ratio of costs to benefits is assessed, is encouraged in-order to justify the value of Quality Improvement (QI) programmes. We previously performed a literature review to develop a ROI conceptual framework for QI programmes. We concluded that, QI-ROI is conceptualised as any monetary and non-monetary benefit. In the current study, we explored if this finding is shared by mental healthcare leaders. We also investigated the stability of this conceptualisation against influencing factors and potential for disinvestment.

We performed qualitative interviews with leaders in an NHS mental health organisation. There were 16 participants: nine board members and seven senior leaders. The interviews were held online via Microsoft Teams and lasted an hour on average. We performed deductive-inductive analysis to seek data from our initial ROI framework and any new data.

We found that in mental healthcare, QI-ROI is also conceptualised as any valued monetary and non-monetary benefits. There was a strong emphasis on benefits to external partners and a de-emphasis of benefit monetisation. This conceptualisation was influenced by the 1) perceived mandates to improve quality and manage scarce resources, 2) expectations from QI, 3) health and social care values, 4) ambiguity over expectations, and 5) uncertainty over outcomes. Uncertainty, ambiguity, and potential for disinvestment posed a threat to the stability of this conceptualisation but did not ultimately change it. Health and social care values supported maintaining the QI-ROI as any benefit, with a focus on patients and staff outcomes. Socio-political desires to improve quality were strong drivers for QI investment.

Mental healthcare leaders primarily conceptualise QI-ROI as any valued benefit. The inclusion of externalised outcomes which are hard to attribute may be challenging. However, mental healthcare services do collaborate with external partners. The de-emphases of benefit monetisation may also be controversial due to the need for financial accountability. Mental healthcare leaders recognise the importance of efficiency savings. However, they raised concerns over the legitimacy and utility of traditional ROI as a tool for assessing QI value. Further research is needed to bring more clarity on these aspects of the QI-ROI concept.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1009
JournalBMC Health Services Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 19 Sept 2023


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