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CPHQ Exam Preparation: Recommended Books

OK, so you’ve decided that you’ll pursue the Certified Professional in Healthcare Quality (CPHQ) Examination. Now you might be looking for books to support your preparation for the exam.

In deciding which book(s) to purchase, I have the following criteria (you might have different or additional ones):

  1. The content is closely related to the current exam content outline, preferably organized in a way similar to the structure of the exam, and is comprehensive.
  2. The book provides information that I don’t already know or present it in a way that is different and interesting. Alternatively, it can provide fresh insights into a topic I’m familiar with. In other works, it should facilitate learning.
  3. The book should represent good value for money. Value is a relative concept: something considered expensive by someone might be deemed cheap by another person. For a book that covers most of the CPHQ exam content outline, if not all of it, I think US$200 is a reasonable amount to pay.
  4. The book provides study questions that encourages me to think about key concepts in quality management.
  5. The book is used by many CPHQ candidates and has been proven to be helpful for passing the exam. (A desirable, but not absolutely necessary, criterion.)

I know this is quite a list. There are a number of books in the market but only two fit the bill.

The Healthcare Quality Handbook 2005 / 2006: A Professional Resource and Study Guide. JB Quality Solutions, Inc.; 20th edition.

Current price: US$185

The Healthcare Quality HandbookAuthored and revised annually since 1986 by Janet Brown, many people have used this handbook to prepare for the CPHQ exam.

The approximately 900 pages of this handbook come in a classy tabbed, two-inch D-ring binder – see the photo of my (well-used) copy. I found several advantages in the design of this handbook. Firstly, it can be easily updated by inserting revised pages or modified by the inclusion of my own notes. Secondly, you have the option of temporarily removing parts of the book (pages or even a whole chapter) for reading on-the-go, which isn’t possible with a regular book. It was convenient for me to read the removed content during lunch or whenever else I found the opportunity to study. Toting the entire handbook, on the other hand, is neither necessary nor practical: it weighs about 6.4 pounds (2.9 kg), and measures 11.6 × 11.3 × 3.0 inches (29.4 × 28.6 × 7.6 cm). Finally, I like the fact that it’s in hardcover – the handbook stands up well on the bookshelf (unlike softcover books) and lasts much longer.

According to its author, the handbook “covers the entire CPHQ Exam Content Outline and includes Study Questions”. The content outline of this book [Microsoft Word—107 kB] is certainly very broad, and should provide you most, if not all, of the quality theory you need to know for the exam. It has loads of quotes, definitions, notes, lists and bullet points. Throughout the book, the author includes references from which her notes are made, which I think is good practice. The author’s effort in meticulously summarizing the literature over a long period of time is really quite a feat, and the succinctness of her notes lends itself to economical reading.

In addition, background information and details quite specific to the US healthcare system (15-20% of the content) can be found in various sections of the handbook. Although this information is not directly relevant to the purpose of preparing for the CPHQ exam, healthcare quality professionals may find it, as well as the sample charts, forms, worksheets, quality tools, etc., handy in actual practice. Sections that have a more direct relationship to the CPHQ exam content outline are highlighted in the text.

Overall, this handbook gives a good overview of healthcare quality management and should provide most healthcare professionals with sufficient material for the CPHQ exam, even if they don’t buy any other book. It certainly meets all my criteria for a book I’d use for the CPHQ exam.

Are There Any Problems With “The Healthcare Quality Handbook”?

  • Volume of Information. Most people will agree that there’s a lot of information packed in this handbook. The issue isn’t in what areas the handbook is lacking but how it might be “too much” for some folks. Imagine reading 900 pages of condensed information on healthcare quality—not particularly fun reading for many people, I suspect. The author’s exam notes that can be found throughout the handbook (indicating the relevance of the material to the CPHQ exam) partially addresses the apparently ominous task of reading it from cover-to-cover.
  • Limited Searchability. The content of this handbook is well indexed. However, it suffers the same problem as other traditional books: looking for specific topics of interest is often not easy, particularly if the key terms searched for are not included in the handbook’s content outline. Over the years, I’ve created bookmarks for important sections of the handbook, without which I would spend a considerable amount of time looking for the content of interest to me.
  • Lack of Portability. As mentioned above, unless you remove selected pages (as I did), this handbook is too large for carrying around. The removal of pages from the handbook, however, risks the possibility of them going missing.
  • Cost of Shipping & Handling. The regular price of this handbook is US$185, which is quite good value. Shipping and handling will set you back an additional US$22 (USA), US$24 (Canada) or US$54-63 (international orders), depending on where you are in the world. Honestly, until a few days ago when I started doing research for this article, I’d forgotten how much I paid for my copy (which is probably a positive reflection on both the value of this handbook and my CPHQ certification). Shipping, particularly to Asia, is substantial and increases the nett cost of the handbook by about 33%!

In summary, Janet Brown’s The Healthcare Quality Handbook would be an excellent one-book-only solution for the CPHQ exam due to its comprehensiveness and depth. Main disadvantages are its excess detail for the purpose of sitting the CPHQ exam, bulkiness, possible difficulty in finding specific topics especially if they are not in the handbook’s content outline [Microsoft Word—107 kB], and the total cost when shipping and handling are included. The first two problems can be mitigated (as discussed above), while the last two are products of the handbook’s sheer volume (in terms of both its large amount of information and physical dimensions) and are unavoidable unless a softcopy version is made available. The latter, however, also has its attendant issues.

Q Solutions: Essential Resources for the Healthcare Quality Professional. National Association for Healthcare Quality; 2nd edition (September 1, 2009).

Current price for Paperback Edition: US$145 (Non-NAHQ Members), US$125 (NAHQ Members)

Another solid offering, Q Solutions: Essential Resources for the Healthcare Quality Professional covers the entire CPHQ exam content outline and is edited by two accomplished healthcare quality professionals. Unlike Brown’s The Healthcare Quality Handbook, this book is accompanied by a CD-ROM, which contains the book’s content in a searchable format. Some readers who prefer to read from a computer monitor (like yours truly) will find this feature particularly beneficial. The book is divided in five modules:

Module 1: Foundation, Techniques, and Tools
Module 2: Strategy and Leadership
Module 3: Continuous Readiness
Module 4: Change Management and Innovation
Module 5: Healthcare Safety Culture

Q Solutions: Essential Resources for the Healthcare Quality ProfessionalThe last module was added in the book’s second edition (2009) to correspond with the addition of Patient Safety to the CPHQ exam content outline recently. Some amendments were also made to the other modules to incorporate some recent changes in the (US) National Healthcare Safety initiatives. The book meets all my criteria above, except one: it lacks study questions. If you wanted to read only one book for the CPHQ exam, this would be a reasonable choice.

Measuring 10 × 6.9 × 0.6 inches (or 25.4 × 17.5 × 1.5 cm) and weighing about 1.3 pounds (0.6 kg), this 247-page book is a lot easier to carry around than Brown’s handbook. If you prefer, you may view – and search – the book’s content from a laptop computer using the CD-ROM. What you gain in portability, though, needs to be balanced by the sacrifice in details that a larger book, like The Healthcare Quality Handbook, offers.

If you’re in the US and not a National Association for Healthcare Quality (NAHQ) member, you should consider buying from Amazon.com as you are entitled to free shipping via Amazon’s Super Saver Shipping program at the time of writing this post. NAHQ members receive a $US20 discount on the regular price if they purchase the book from the NAHQ Online Store.

If you are outside the US, it will probably be cheaper to make your purchase from Amazon.com. As an indication of shipping and handling charges, it will cost US$92.80 to get the book sent to Southeast Asia (that’s nearly two-thirds the cost of the actual book!) if purchased from the NAHQ Online Store.

Other Books and Resources

The Healthcare Quality Certification Commission (HQCC) has suggested some books and other resources for the CPHQ exam. I bought many of these books when I prepared for the CPHQ exam several years back. In retrospect, I think that was a mistake. I recommend that people buy just one book (i.e. one of the above two) first, and read it. If you feel you need supplementary information, you can always purchase more resources at a later time. With this approach, you can save yourself some money and avoid having more books sitting on the shelf merely collecting dust.

There are also “study guides” and other resources available for CPHQ exam preparation, in physical and online formats. Some are subject to affiliate marketing. I’ll review a number of these resources in the next article of our series of CPHQ exam tips.

Conclusion

You won’t go wrong with either The Healthcare Quality Handbook or Q Solutions. Neither book is perfect (but what is?), as discussed above. These books will give you most of the theoretical information you need for the CPHQ exam but with each one, you’ll have to make a tradeoff between content and portability.

Andy Teh, CPHQ
Principal
Teh & Associates

Statement of Disclosure: I am not associated with the above authors, and I don’t receive any commissions from sales of these products.

Addendum May 18, 2014: This article was written on June 26, 2010. Later editions of the books mentioned above have been published. You should bear this in mind when considering purchasing them. We now recommend that CPHQ candidates use either or both the books above as reference texts only. For many candidates, using either of these books alone is not the best way to prepare for the CPHQ exam. Some terms were updated to make them consistent with those used in the current CPHQ Candidate Examination Handbook. No material changes were made to the original article.

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