BACKGROUND: Accreditation systems are based on a number of principles and purposes that vary across jurisdictions. Decision making about accreditation governance suffers from a paucity of evidence. This paper evaluates the pros and cons of continuous quality improvement (CQI) within educational institutions that have traditionally been accredited based on episodic evaluation by external reviewers. METHODS: A naturalistic utility-focused evaluation was performed. Seven criteria, each relevant to government oversight, were used to evaluate the pros and cons of the use of CQI in three medical school accreditation systems across the continuum of medical education. The authors, all involved in the governance of accreditation, iteratively discussed CQI in their medical education contexts in light of the seven criteria until consensus was reached about general patterns. RESULTS: Because institutional CQI makes use of early warning systems, it may enhance the reflective function of accreditation. In the three medical accreditation systems examined, external accreditors lacked the ability to respond quickly to local events or societal developments. There is a potential role for CQI in safeguarding the public interest. Moreover, the central governance structure of accreditation may benefit from decentralized CQI. However, CQI has weaknesses with respect to impartiality, independence, and public accountability, as well as with the ability to balance expectations with capacity. CONCLUSION: CQI, as evaluated with the seven criteria of oversight, has pros and cons. Its use still depends on the balance between the expected positive effects-especially increased reflection and faster response to important issues-versus the potential impediments. A toxic culture that affects impartiality and independence, as well as the need to invest in bureaucratic systems may make in impractical for some institutions to undertake CQI.
- Continuous quality improvement
- Internal review
- Medical education
- Quality management