There is a consensus that measuring performance can be instrumental in improving value in U.S. health care. In particular clinical areas, such as cardiac and intensive care, measurement has been associated with important improvements in providers’ use of evidence-based strategies and patients’ health outcomes over the past two decades. Perhaps most important, measures have altered the culture of health care delivery for the better, with a growing acceptance that clinical practice can and should be objectively assessed.
Nevertheless, as we argue in the full-length version of this paper, substantial shortcomings in the quality of U.S. health care persist. Furthermore, the growth of performance measurement has been accompanied by increasing concerns about the scientific rigor, transparency, and limitations of available measure sets, and how measures should be used to provide proper incentives to improve performance.
The challenge is to recognize current limitations in how measures are used in order to build a much stronger infrastructure to support the goals of increased accountability, more informed patient choice, and quality improvement. In the following paper, we offer seven policy recommendations for achieving the potential of performance measurement.
1. Decisively move from measuring processes to outcomes.
There is growing interest in relying more on outcome measures and less on process measures, since outcome measures better reflect what patients and providers are interested in. Yet establishing valid outcome measures poses substantial challenges—including the need to riskadjust results to account for patients’ baseline health status and risk factors, assure data validity, recognize surveillance bias, and use sufficiently large sample sizes to permit correct inferences about performance.
2. Use quality measures strategically, adopting other quality improvement approaches where measures fall short.
While working to develop a broad set of outcome measures that can be the basis for attaining the goals of public accountability and information for consumer choice, Medicare should ensure that the use of performance measures supports quality improvement efforts to address important deficiencies in how care is provided, not only to Medicare beneficiaries but to all Americans. CMS’ current focus on reducing preventable rehospitalizations within 30 days of discharge represents a timely, strategic use of performance measurement to address an evident problem where there are demonstrated approaches to achieve successful improvement . Read more.
3. Measure quality at the level of the organization, rather than the clinician.
Historically, the physician has been viewed as the leader of medicine, with responsibility for the care and outcomes of patients; in iconic photographs and paintings, the physician is seen as a lone, heroic figure. However, this focus on the individual is flawed for most measures of quality and presents substantial technical challenges. In recommending a focus on measuring outcomes rather than care processes, we consider surveys or other approaches to obtaining the perspectives of patients on the care they receive to be an essential component of such outcomes. Read more.
4. Measure patient experience with care and patient-reported outcomes as ends in themselves.
Performance measurement has too often been plagued by inordinate focus on technical aspects of clinical care—ordering a particular test or prescribing from a class of medication—such that the patient’s perspective of the care received may be totally ignored. Quality measure data should not only be technically correct, but should be organized such that their dissemination is a resource to aid in quality improvement activities. Read more.
5. Use measurement to promote the concept of the rapid-learning health care system.
Initiatives to promote performance measurement need to be accompanied by support to improve care. As such, quality measurement should be viewed as just one component of a learning health care system that also includes advancing the science of quality improvement, building providers’ capacity to improve care, transparently reporting performance, and creating formal accountability systems. Read more.
6. Invest in the basic science of measurement development and applications, including an emphasis on anticipating and preventing unintended adverse consequences.
The unfortunate reality is that there is no body of expertise with responsibility for addressing the science of performance measurement. The National Quality Forum (NQF) comes closest, and while it addresses some scientific issues when deciding whether to endorse a proposed measure, NQF is not mandated to explore broader issues to advance the science of measure development, nor does it have the financial support or structure to do so. Read more.
7. Task a single entity with defining standards for measuring and reporting quality and cost data, similar to the role the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) serves for the reporting of corporate financial data, to improve the validity, comparability, and transparency of publicly reported health care quality data.
There is a plethora of health care quality data being pushed out to the public, yet no rules to assure the accuracy of what is being presented publicly. The health care industry lacks standards for how valid a quality measure should be before it is used in public reporting or pay-for-performance initiatives, although some standards have been proposed. Read more.
The interest in promoting a health care system that rewards performance needs to be balanced with the practical challenges faced when measuring performance. Improvement requires substantial investments in the underlying science of measurement, greater care in communicating measurement results, greater attention to the role of measures in quality improvement efforts, and using performance data in more strategic ways. The adoption of flawed measurement approaches that do not accurately discriminate between providers can undermine professional and public support for provider accountability, reward indiscriminately, and divert attention from more appropriate and productive quality improvement efforts.
Robert A. Berenson, MD is an institute fellow at the Urban Institute.
Peter J. Pronovost, MD, PhD is the director of the Armstrong Institute for Patient Safety and Quality at Johns Hopkins, as well as Johns Hopkins Medicine’s senior vice president for patient safety and quality.
Harlan M. Krumholz, MD, is the director of the Yale-New Haven Hospital Center for Outcomes Research and Evaluation, director of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholars program at Yale University, and the Harold H. Hines, Jr. professor of cardiology, investigative medicine, and public health.
The authors thank Lawrence Casalino, MD, PhD, chief of the Division of Outcomes and Effectiveness Research and an associate professor at Weill Cornell Medical College, and Andrea Ducas, MPH and Anne Weiss, MPP of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation for their helpful comments on this paper. This research was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, where the report was originally published.