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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.


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
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.

{ 15 comments… add one }
  • Lee Zhu June 24, 2015, 10:18 am

    Hi Andy,
    I’ve got a used Quality Handbook 2010/2011, 25th Edition. Now the most updated version is 2014/2015, 28th. Do you think it’s ok I use the one I got instead of purchasing the 28th. I’m in China, the shipping is incredibably expensive. Thank you very much.


    • Andy Teh June 25, 2015, 1:05 am

      @Lee—The 25th edition of The Healthcare Quality Handbook will be sufficient IMHO. You need not purchase the latest edition. They are similar, and the deficiencies in the 25th edition are largely present in the 28th edition as well. Regardless of which edition you use, I recommend you explore other resources (books, websites, or anything else you can get hold of) that will help close gaps in knowledge not addressed by this book. All the best in your exam preparation!

  • DAWN July 31, 2015, 3:12 pm


    I am planning to sit for this exam Oct 2015. Any adivce?

  • Ashar March 30, 2017, 9:20 am

    What is the last edition of Q solutions book available now ???

    • Andy Teh March 30, 2017, 5:09 pm

      @Ashar—Q Solutions: Essential Resources for the Healthcare Quality Professional is currently in its third edition.

  • she January 5, 2018, 11:30 am

    Hii andy

    I am currently working as an Quality Assurance executive in a JCI accreditated organisation in the UAE. I wish to take CPHQ this year. However, i am quite confused about where to begin. A bundle of training courses available in the market are priced very high. Is it required to take them. Your advice in how to go about in the preparation phase shallbe very valuable.
    Thanks. Waiting for your reply

    • Andy Teh January 8, 2018, 5:18 am

      @she—A key tenet of our approach to CPHQ exam preparation—or to any other meaningful endeavor—is that the work to be done fits the job at hand. If you are well prepared—say, from natural acumen, experience, and strong ability to apply your current knowledge and skills, I would tend to believe you merely need some practice questions. Many subscribers to CPHQ Tutor fall in this category of CPHQ candidates. On the other hand, there are also candidates who are clearly inadequately prepared, due to lack of relevant knowledge and skills or for some other reason—these persons will likely benefit from:

      1. Identifying their gaps in knowledge and skills relative to the tasks on the CPHQ exam content outline; and
      2. Accessing resources that will help them close those identified gaps.

      Most materials available on the market are not particularly sophisticated; almost all assume little background knowledge and are most suitable for entry-level candidates. In view of the purported meaning of the CPHQ credential, such materials offer limited value, in our opinion. True CPHQ exam prep resources, we believe, should prepare folks for the CPHQ exam, i.e. at a level respectful of most CPHQ candidates’ knowledge, skills, and experience, and NOT banal stuff, which the vast majority of people already know! Reading things you already know may boost your confidence but it doesn’t really help to improve your exam score; it’s a waste of time and effort (and money if you had made a financial investment).

      The question of value is an interesting one. Some people pay $670 for a prep package and find absolutely zero value in it because they failed to achieve a passing score on the actual test (sometimes more than once!). There are a few reasons for this but we’ll mention the most obvious one here. The assumption that any ready-made, non-customizable package/course can cover all there is to know for the exam is false; otherwise, almost everyone taking it would pass (!), which would actually devalue the CPHQ credential substantially. Such resources fail because they are a one-size-fits-all “solution”; they don’t fit everyone’s needs. On the other hand, there are some people who are willing and happy to pay in excess of $8500 for our one-to-one coaching program that addresses all their areas of concern, accompanied by a no-nonsense 100% money-back guarantee. These individuals view such a program as a genuine investment in their career, producing a sure result minus all sorts of hassles. (Disclaimer: Our CPHQ private coaching program was the first of its kind and remains the only one with an unblemished track record; it has always been and will always be backed by a 100% money-back guarantee. But I’m not promoting our program here, per se; I don’t need to—due to the waiting list and my other work commitments, we’re not accepting any new student into the program for at least the next 7–8 months!) The exam fee for international CPHQ candidates is not cheap ($515 if you’re not a NAHQ member, and $445 if you are, at the time of writing). For some, passing the CPHQ exam is not an option or it must be done within a specific time frame for professional reasons. The monetary cost, relative success rate, opportunity cost (if you don’t make the grade) and career-sensitive factors should be considered when evaluating the value of any CPHQ exam preparation resource.

  • abdulkarim alfadel January 18, 2018, 9:17 am

    I kindly request a feed back on how to get the CPHQ courses and its certificate . Also , I want to know if this certificate is approved by the national and international authorities.

    • Andy Teh January 19, 2018, 4:51 pm

      @abdulkarim alfadel—A number of CPHQ exam preparation courses, offered by different providers, are available through the year. They vary greatly in terms of quality and effectiveness. Access to these courses depends on the provider. Unfortunately for you, all our CPHQ exam preparation workshops scheduled for 2018 have sold out. If you’d like more information about our workshops, e.g. dates, venues, etc., and/or wish to be placed on one or more waiting lists, kindly send an e-mail to [email protected] . One of my associates will get back to you within one business day. CPHQ certification requires you to pass only one exam, i.e., the CPHQ exam. You may apply for the CPHQ exam here. I’m not quite sure what you mean by “national and international authorities.” Suffice to say, the CPHQ credential is accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies, the accrediting arm of the Institute for Credentialing Excellence in Washington, DC, USA. CPHQ certification, like any other certification, is not the same as licensing.

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