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Agency for Healthcare Research Quality

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Understanding Health Care Quality

Research has shown that science-based measures can be used to assess quality for various conditions and for specific types of care. For example, quality health care is:

  • Doing the right thing (getting the health care services you need).
  • At the right time (when you need them).
  • In the right way (using the appropriate test or procedure).
  • To achieve the best possible results.

Providing quality health care also means striking the right balance of services by:

  • Avoiding underuse (for example, not screening a person for high blood pressure).
  • Avoiding overuse (for example, performing tests that a patient doesn't need).
  • Eliminating misuse (for example, providing medications that may have dangerous interactions).

We would like to think that every doctor, nurse, pharmacist, hospital, and other provider gives high-quality care, but we know this is not always the case. Quality varies depending on where you live. Quality can vary from one State to another, and it can vary from one doctor's office across the street to another. Health care quality varies widely and for many reasons.

For example, timely receipt of clot-busting drugs can save lives for patients suffering heart attacks. The national standard for providing clot-busting drugs is within 30 minutes of a patient's arrival at the hospital. But we know that this varies widely across States, from a low of 20 minutes in one State to a high of 140 minutes in another.

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AHRQ Advancing Excellence in Health Care