Monitoring & Assessing Health Program Quality

Instructor: Orie Achonwa
How can you determine the quality of a health program? This lesson provides an overview of key factors that indicate a program's effectiveness, from how it aligns with its core mission to whether it's making a difference for participants and is set up to accomplish what it aims to achieve.

The Typical Health Program Assessment

If you've ever been asked to write your name on a sign-in sheet or register before attending a health-related event, you've likely experienced one of the most common methods for monitoring health programs. However, while this method is one of the easiest ways to collect data about a program, it is not always the best way to assess its quality.

When it comes to monitoring and assessing a health program, keep in mind that you are attempting to validate the effectiveness of that program. For this reason, the problem with collecting data on attendance (like a sign-in sheet) is that it only tells you about the usability of the program rather than the behavior change outcomes the program achieves. The latter is what we want to know.

Steps to Assessing a Health Program

So what are the proper steps? Let's go over them with an example.

Goals and Methods

The first step is to identify the health problem that the program wishes to solve. In short, what does your program do?

For example, let's say you have an after school program called KiddoChef. You want your program to improve children's eating habits.

To evaluate the quality of a health program like a children
kids cooking

Next, determine how your program will accomplish its goal - in this case, improving children's eating habits. Do you teach kids healthy cooking techniques? Or how to select healthier food options for their meals?

Indicators of Success

Then determine the indicators of success and how to measure them. This is the crucial piece! What does success in your program look like? Find an accurate and reliable way to measure it.

There are published research studies, particularly in the social and behavioral sciences, that will tell you what type of outcomes are expected when kids participate in cooking demonstrations, nutrition education programs, and just about any other health intervention. Review these studies to pinpoint the indicators you should use to evaluate the quality of your health program.

The KiddoChef program aims to improve children's eating habits by teaching kids how to prepare healthy meals for themselves. An indication that the program has helped a child develop healthy cooking habits is how often the child prepares healthy meals on his or her own.

To monitor this indicator, you can create a survey for parents or the child to report how many healthy meals were prepared each week of the program. Collect this data at regular intervals throughout the program, particularly before the kids begin the program and after they have completed it. Use this same tool every time so that you are collecting data on the same measures.

Analyze Your Data

After your data collection period, compare what you've collected against itself. This may take the form of entering each data point into a table so you can create a graph that will help you analyze trends. You may also want to compare this data to a similar program, preferably one that is used as best practices, to see if your program is performing at the same level as others.

Keep in mind that some data collection methods may introduce biases that can affect the degree to which you can confidently defend the quality of a program. For example, parents may report that their child prepared more healthy meals than what was made because they know they're expected to provide healthy meals for their child at home.

If the children report their outcomes, they may report that they prepared more healthy meals than they did because they are aware that it's what's expected of them, or they want to measure up to their peers. For these reasons the outcome of your health program may be over- or underestimated when you use self-reported data to assess the quality of the program.

You can attempt to lessen this type of bias in a number of ways. One is with your program design. You can require the kids in the KiddoChef program to keep a journal and take pictures of each healthy meal prepared so you can verify the data they submit to you. Another is to use more accurate measuring tools such as blood lipid and serum samples for your data collection.

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