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AHRQ releases 2005 National Healthcare Quality and Disparities Reports

Quality of health care for Americans has continued to improve at a modest pace, and health care disparities are narrowing overall for many minority Americans. But for Hispanics, disparities have widened in both quality of care and access to care, according to the 2005 National Healthcare Quality Report and its companion document, the 2005 National Healthcare Disparities Report. These reports, issued annually, measure quality and disparities in four key areas of health care: effectiveness, patient safety, timeliness, and patient centeredness.

The quality report employs a wide range of measures, including health care outcomes such as hospital-acquired infections and reductions in deaths from certain diseases. It also measures how well the health care system is using specific treatments that are known to work most effectively. The disparities report compares these measures by race and ethnicity and by income. It also measures access to care, using indicators such as health insurance status and frequency of visits to a physician. This year, for the first time, the report also shows trends in health care disparities from year to year.

The 2005 National Healthcare Quality Report finds that overall quality of care for all Americans improved at a rate of 2.8 percent, the same increase shown in last year's report. However, the report notes there has been much more rapid improvement in some measures, especially where there have been focused efforts to improve care.

The 2005 National Healthcare Disparities Report finds that many of the largest disparities in measures of quality and access are observed for low-income people regardless of race or ethnicity, with some signs of improvement. Overall, more racial disparities in quality of care were narrowing than were widening, and most racial disparities in access to care were narrowing (affecting blacks, Asians and American Indians/Alaska Natives). But for Hispanics, the majority of disparities for both quality and access were growing wider.

Examples of findings in the AHRQ disparities report include:

  • Rates of late-stage breast cancer decreased more rapidly from 1992 to 2002 among black women (169 to 161 per 100,000 women) than among white women (152 to 151 per 100,000), resulting in a narrowing disparity.
  • Treatment of heart failure improved more rapidly from 2002 to 2003 among American Indian Medicare beneficiaries (69 percent to 74 percent) than among white Medicare beneficiaries (73 percent to 74 percent), resulting in an elimination of this disparity.
  • The quality of diabetes care declined from 2000 to 2002 among Hispanic adults (44 percent to 38 percent) as it improved among white adults (50 percent to 55 percent).
  • The quality of patient-provider communication (as reported by patients themselves) declined from 2000 to 2002 among Hispanic adults (87 percent to 84 percent) as it improved among white adults (93 percent to 94 percent).
  • Access to a usual source of care increased slightly from 1999 to 2003 for Hispanics (77 percent to 78 percent) and whites (88 percent to 90 percent), with Hispanics less likely to have access to a usual source of care.

The report finds a 10.2 percent annual improvement in the five core measures of patient safety. These are areas where coordinated national efforts are underway to improve the delivery of specific "best practice" treatments to improve patient safety and reduce medical errors.

Improvements were greatest in quality measures for diabetes, heart disease, respiratory conditions, nursing home care, and maternal and child health care. The overall rate of change for these measures was 5.4 percent.

The AHRQ reports are available online at http://www.innovations.ahrq.gov or through the AHRQ Publications Clearinghouse.

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