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National Healthcare Disparities Report, 2005

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Chapter 2. Quality of Health Care

As better understanding of health and sickness has led to superior ways of preventing, diagnosing, and treating diseases, the health of most Americans has improved dramatically. However, ample evidence indicates that some Americans do not receive the full benefits of high quality care. Specifically, extensive disparities in health care related to race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status have been demonstrated by much research and confirmed by previous releases of the National Healthcare Disparities Report.

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Components of Health Care Quality

Quality health care means doing the right thing, at the right time, in the right way, for the right people—and having the best possible results.1 Quality health care is care that is:

  • Effective—Providing services based on scientific knowledge to all who could benefit and refraining from providing services to those not likely to benefit.
  • Safe—Avoiding injuries to patients from the care that is intended to help them.
  • Timely—Reducing waits and sometimes harmful delays for both those who receive and those who give care.
  • Patient centered—Providing care that is respectful of and responsive to individual patient preferences, needs, and values and ensuring that patient values guide all clinical decisions.
  • Equitable—Providing care that does not vary in quality because of personal characteristics such as gender, ethnicity, geographic location, and socioeconomic status.
  • Efficient—Avoiding waste, including waste of equipment, supplies, ideas, and energy.2

Health care quality is measured in several ways including:

  • Clinical performance measures of how well providers deliver specific services needed by specific patients, such as whether children get the immunizations that they need.
  • Assessments by patients of how well providers meet health care needs from the patient's perspective, such as whether providers communicate clearly.
  • Outcome measures—such as death rates from cancers preventable by screening—that may be affected by the quality of health care received.



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AHRQ Advancing Excellence in Health Care