The benefits to front line clinicians of participating in quality improvement (QI) activity are promoted in many health systems. QI can represent a valuable opportunity for individuals to be involved in leading and delivering change, from improving individual patient care to transforming services across complex health and care systems.

However, it is not clear that this promotion of QI has created greater understanding of QI or widespread adoption. QI largely remains an activity undertaken by experts and early adopters, often in isolation from their peers.

There is a danger of a widening gap between this group and the majority of healthcare professionals. This article will make it easier for those new to QI to understand what it is, where it fits with other approaches to improving care (such as audit or research), when best to use a QI approach, making it easier to understand the relevance and usefulness of QI in delivering better outcomes for patients.