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AHRQ-sponsored "Summit" brings together health care leaders to consider next steps in improving health care quality

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality convened its first national "summit" meeting on U.S. health care quality April 4 in Washington, DC. The summit brought together some 250 health leaders to look toward new ways for achieving better quality of care for America's patients.

The summit followed the release earlier this year of AHRQ's second annual National Healthcare Quality Report and the companion National Healthcare Disparities Report. The two reports, which examine 179 different quality-related measures, are the most extensive assessment of quality of care ever undertaken.

The reports reveal substantial gaps in health care quality throughout the country. For specific measures, patients in leading States receive care at a quality level that is as much as 10 times higher than the care provided in the lowest-performing States. Although quality improved overall compared with last year's report, the rate of improvement was only 2.8 percent. Very large disparities in care also persisted, based on race, ethnicity, and income.

Participants at the summit concluded that an important start had been made as a result of regular quality measurements like the AHRQ reports. However, they also agreed that quality improvement is moving too slowly.

In her address to the summit, AHRQ Director Carolyn M. Clancy, M.D., described the state of health care quality in America as stubbornly short of where we want it to be, agonizingly short of where we know it could be, and still slow and sporadic in making improvements. Dr. Clancy issued a "quality challenge," calling for a new health care culture based on measuring quality of care in every health care setting and making quality comparisons public. She also reminded participants that health care providers need to learn from one another's successes, a primary purpose of the summit. Other featured speakers included Donald M. Berwick, M.D., president and CEO of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, and Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee.

At the summit, Dr. Clancy also released State-level health care quality data compilations based on the National Healthcare Quality Report to help State health officials more easily identify areas where they are doing well and those where more quality improvement activity may be needed. These data include:

  • State ranking tables that show how well each State is performing on 14 selected measures of health care quality that are featured in the 2004 Quality Report and for which there are data from all 50 States and the District of Columbia.
  • State summary tables that provide a complete listing of the entire set of about 100 quality measures for all States and Washington, DC.
  • State snapshots that give more detail on specific measures, including two specific examples in which the health care system of a particular State is doing well and two in which it might be able to improve.

For more information on the summit, go to www.ahrq.gov/qual/challenge.htm. Go to www.qualitytools.ahrq.gov for online access to the State-level data compilations and the two national reports on health care quality and disparities.

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