This information is for reference purposes only. It was current when produced and may now be outdated. Archive material is no longer maintained, and some links may not work. Persons with disabilities having difficulty accessing this information should contact us at: https://info.ahrq.gov. Let us know the nature of the problem, the Web address of what you want, and your contact information.
Please go to www.ahrq.gov for current information.
Chapter 4. Timeliness
Importance and Measures
Timeliness, or the ability to receive care when needed1, is one of the six aims for improving health care quality established by the Institute of Medicine. Long waits in doctors' offices and emergency departments and in getting treatments and tests define the elements of measuring and understanding timeliness in the health care system2.
Morbidity and Mortality
- Lack of timeliness can result in emotional distress, physical harm, and financial consequences for patients3.
- Early intervention, whether with percutaneous coronary stenting or thrombolytic therapy, is regarded as the best chance for protecting heart muscle damage in patients suffering heart attacks4.
- Stroke patients' mortality and long-term disability are largely influenced by the timeliness of therapy5, 6.
- Timely delivery of appropriate care can help reduce mortality and morbidity for both acute conditions such as heart attacks and chronic conditions such as chronic kidney disease7-9.
- Early care for comorbid conditions such as depression has been shown to reduce hospitalization rates and costs for Medicare beneficiaries10.
- Early care for complications in patients with diabetes can reduce overall costs of the disease. 11 Some research suggests that complications can amount to nearly $50,000 per patient over 30 years.12
- Timely outpatient care can reduce admissions for pediatric asthma, which account for $835 million in total hospitalization charges annually13, 14.
This report focuses on two of the nine measures in the timeliness measure set:
- Time to initiation of thrombolytic therapy for heart attack patientsi
- Patient's perceptions of the timeliness of appointments for routine care and illness care
i These measures are described in the Heart Disease section of Chapter 2.