EBRI Issue Brief

Measuring the Quality of Health Care

Mar 1, 1995 20  pages


  • This Issue Brief examines some of the issues involved in defining and measuring the quality of health care and in implementing quality measures. It discusses the importance of measures of health care quality in the evolving health care delivery system, examines some of the conceptual issues involved in defining quality of care, and discusses some of the measures of health care quality and how these measures have been implemented in the health care delivery system.
  • The major impetus for quality assurance programs is cost management: it is an attempt to allocate scarce health care resources efficiently. This requires making choices among alternatives, which may mean that maximizing quality of care for whole populations may not maximize the quality of care for individuals.
  • Quality, in terms of any single good or service, has a number of dimensions. Health care is a complex bundle of services, and each component service within an episode of care affects the other components and the patients differently. Moreover, patients differ in numerous ways, which means that similar symptoms may require different services if care is to be effective. Measuring quality of health care services requires accounting for all of these factors.
  • In attempting to manage health care costs, employers and other private health plans have begun to employ process measures of quality, i.e., evaluating caregivers' activities, the decisions made at each step in an episode of illness, and the appropriateness of the care provided.
  • Process is an important component of quality measures because it focuses directly on the uncertainty in the efficacy of treatment. Given this uncertainty, the logic of medical decision making is an important determinant of quality and cost effectiveness. Examining the process of care involves assembling a panel of physicians who review medical records to determine the appropriateness of the care received.
  • Providers have increasingly found that their medical decision making and practice styles are being monitored by purchasers as new health care delivery systems are being formed. The American Medical Association found that 39 percent of surveyed physicians were subject to clinical profiling.