The Basics

Rapid-cycle improvement is a "quality improvement method that identifies, implements and measures changes made to improve a process or a system."1 Rapid-cycle improvement implies that changes are made and tested over periods of three or months or less, rather than the standard eight to twelve months.

Why It Matters

Rapid-cycle improvement is an important part of electronic health record (EHR) implementation because it enables your practice/hospital/health center to continually improve how you use EHR technology. In addition to helping your practice/hospital/health centers overcome any staff resistance to workflow and workforce changes, continually implementing improvements will enable you to better serve your patients, achieve your business goals, realize the benefits of EHRs, and improve quality.


One commonly used rapid-cycle improvement strategy is the Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) cycle. The PDSA cycle is a four-stage rapid-cycle quality improvement strategy.

  • Plan: Identify an opportunity to improve and plan a change or test of how something works.
  • Do: Carry out the plan on a small number of patients. The test period may be as short as one day for small PDSA cycles.
  • Study: Examine the results. Did you achieve your goals?
  • Act: Use your results to make a decision, incorporate changes into your workflow, and establish future quality improvement plans.2, 3

For More Information

For more information about rapid-cycle improvement and alternative quality improvement strategies, see the following resources.


  1. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “Glossary of Health Care Quality Terms.”
  2. Health Resources and Services Administration. “What is Quality Improvement?
  3. Department of Community and Family Medicine, Duke University Medical Center. “PDSA.”