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2005 National Healthcare Quality Report

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Chapter 4. Timeliness

Timeliness is the health care system's capacity to provide health care quickly after a need is recognized. Timeliness1 is one of the six dimensions of quality established by the Institute of Medicine as a priority for improvement in the health care system.2 Measures of timeliness include waiting time spent in doctors' offices and emergency departments (EDs) and the interval between identifying a need for specific tests and treatments and actually receiving those services.

Importance and Measures

Morbidity and Mortality

  • Lack of timeliness can result in emotional distress, physical harm, and financial consequences for patients.3
  • Stroke patients' mortality and long-term disability are largely influenced by the timeliness of therapy.4,5
  • Timely delivery of appropriate care can also help reduce mortality and morbidity for chronic conditions such as chronic kidney disease.6


  • Early care for comorbid conditions has been shown to reduce hospitalization rates and costs for Medicare beneficiaries.7
  • Some research suggests that, over the course of 30 years, the costs of treating diabetic complications can approach $50,000 per patient.8 Early care for complications in patients with diabetes can reduce overall costs of the disease.9
  • Timely outpatient care can reduce admissions for pediatric asthma, which account for $835 million in total hospitalization charges annually.10,11


This report focuses on three core report measures related to timeliness of primary, emergency, and hospital care:

  • Getting care for illness or injury as soon as wanted
  • Emergency department visits in which the patient left without being seen
  • Time to initiation of thrombolytic therapy for heart attack patients

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Getting Care for Illness or Injury as Soon as Wanted Chapter 3. References



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