More Resources

"Quality" Health Care: What is it and how can you get it?
(Source: Oregon Quality Health Care Corporation)
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Guide to Health Care Quality- How to know it when you see it
(Source: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality)
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Improve Your Care

Understanding Quality

In America we worry about quality of the cars we drive, air we breathe, and food we eat. When it comes to health care, we believe that we receive the best possible health care. It's not that we didn't care about quality health care in fact we are sure we were getting the best care from our providers.

Recent surveys show that health care is the number one concern among voters today. The cry for Federal legislation to protect patients' rights reflects a growing anxiety about quality-fear that we won't get the care we need when we need it.

Researchers have confirmed that our fears may be right. The quality of health care in this country is not ideal: quality varies widely across health plans and providers. Many procedures and treatments are used too often while others are not used often enough. No institution or office is free from errors. Problems in health care are not isolated but can affect anyone. Although most quality information that is widely available is from managed care organizations we can still get the picture that quality health care is not the same. From health plans to physician’s offices, nursing homes, hospitals, and other health care agencies, differences exist.

What makes this anxiety especially powerful is how little we really know. We may be aware that some health plans and some providers provide lower quality care than others, but the real issue for people is much more personal. What about my health plan? How good is my doctor? How do I choose among the options available to me? Who do I ask?

Information Can Help
When these kinds of quality issues come up in other industries (such as concerns about automobile safety), the solution typically involves a multitude of strategies, including regulatory reforms, financial incentives, independent oversight, and consumer education. While this last tactic is only one piece of a much larger puzzle, the act of providing people with useful information plays a key role in effecting change.

Information is empowering
Providing information about quality to consumers is empowering. Information makes consumers aware of what they are getting and enables them to make decisions that reflect their needs and their values. Nutrition labels, for instance, made people conscious of their consumption in a new way; for the first time, they were able to judge the quality of food, compare products, and make informed decisions about the foods they ate. In the context of health care, information would enable consumers to identify coverage, caregivers, and medical practices that best suit their personal needs.

In the health care industry, information is a critical part of long-term strategies to harness the power of informed consumers to reform the American health care system. The theory is that, armed with the right information and the ability to use it, consumers will reward the best health plans and providers and weed out those that perform inadequately. While the merits of this strategy are still debated, the true test of its impact cannot occur until consumers have the information they need and the tools to apply it.

Information separates myth from reality
Finally, information punctures our fantasies and calms our fears. Thanks to daily stories in the media, Americans are flooded with information about health care with little help in sifting through it to find the nuggets of truth. We lack the solid grounding to make objective judgments about what we're hearing. Maybe the local hospital is better than the academic medical center downtown. Maybe the care from one HMO is better than the care available elsewhere. Without objective information, we simply don't know. (Source: TalkingQuality)