The Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) Cycle – COVID‑19

PDSAs are a standard approach to quality improvement that can be applied to nearly every health care process or clinical approach.

The PDSA cycle is one approach to quality improvement (QI) that leverages a structured, straightforward method, which can be applied to a wide variety of care processes. It can be applied in small-to-large practices, regardless of staffing and IT sophistication. It should be very specific and precise, and can become the engine of ongoing improvement. The PDSA form below can help guide Champions in enacting this process.

4 steps to using PDSA:

Plan: Develop the Initiative

Act: Make Further Improvements

Do: Implement Your Plan

Study: Check the Results

3 key questions to ask during a PDSA cycle:


What are we trying to accomplish?


What changes can we make that will result in improvement?


How will we know that a change is an improvement?

  • Click here for a template PDSA form.
  • Click here for PDSA form examples.

Refining a PDSA plan

In order to have a successful DRIVE program, the PDSA plan needs to be carefully crafted and implemented.

The Champion can implement the following elements when presenting the PDSA plan to the practice and/or health system team:

  • Seek input from the practice and/or health system team, as some members of the team may have useful insights
  • Ensure that every individual from the practice team is informed and agrees on the plan presented
  • Use regularly scheduled staff meetings to communicate the status of the DRIVE program and solicit feedback and updates on progress

After a Champion receives buy-in from the practice and/or health system team, the PDSA plan can be put into action.

Different outcomes of the PDSA plan

  • If the plan did not achieve the desired results, consider the reasons why and redevelop the plan with those insights in mind. A coaching call with the Center for Sustainable Health Care Quality and Equity (SHC) can also be scheduled for support during this time
  • If the plan did achieve or surpass desired results, develop the next cycle to expand its application across more of the practice/health system, or further refine it as needed

Set SMART PDSA goals

When Champions fill out the PDSA form, they need to ensure that the DRIVE program is focused with specific objectives – this can be accomplished by making sure that the goal in the PDSA plan is SMART:


Precisely defined


Quantifiable data to show effect


Reasonable to reach


Addresses a current or important issue


Has a specified timeframe in which it needs to be reached


One practice goal could be to increase COVID-19 vaccination rates among patients with diabetes. Using the SMART approach, a goal can be specified as follows:

  • Specific: Your practice needs to increase COVID-19 vaccination rates among Black patients over the age of 65 with diabetes from 10% to 30%
  • Measurable: Your staff will track 1st and 2nd doses of vaccinations through your electronical health record (EHR) system, your local Immunization Information System (IIS), and/or a backup IIS
  • Attainable: Given current COVID-19 vaccine production estimates, you are confident that you are able to reach 30% of your patients aged 65 years or older with diabetes
  • Relevant: Older patients and patients with comorbidities, such as diabetes, are at risk for poor COVID-19 outcomes
  • Time-based: This goal will be reached by July 31, 2021

Starting Small with the PDSA Plan

It is recommended to start a PDSA plan at a smaller scale by piloting it with one physician or in one care team first.

Then, leaders from the practice or health systems can communicate with the rest of the DRIVE team about the initiative’s progress, encourage more widespread adoption of the PDSA plan, and promote its importance and value on a larger scale.

“Quality improvement begins with love and vision. Love of your patients. Love of your work.”

Dr. Avedis Donabedian

If you have used a DRIVE Toolkit to improve health outcomes or need additional assistance, please contact us by filling out the form below.