For as long as I can remember we have told ourselves that the health care priorities of the American people are access, cost and quality. However there was never a consensus as to what exactly we meant by quality, let alone how to measure it, or pay for it. The truth is that there are many ways of defining quality and our research shows that different players define quality very differently. Patients, physicians , employers, insurers, the I.O.M, hospital managers, drug companies, the NCQA, public health experts, demographers and policy wonks all focus on different indicators of quality. Clearly quality, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.
Patients tend to define quality as meaning affordable access to almost everything. Naturally they care about the outcomes of their own care. They tend to believe that more care is better than less. The demeanor and bedside manner of doctors and nurses, being treated with respect and courtesy, are important. They often judge hospitals the way they judge hotels; good food and a nice atrium make a difference. As Ian Morrison has written “good quality is being in a waiting room with people who have more money than you”.
The Institute of Medicine has equated quality with the avoidance of medical errors (adverse events) and patient safety , and the pursuit of ways to improve these.
Most Employers tend to equate quality with having happy , uncomplaining employees at the lowest possible cost. A minority of progressive employers , such as those who participate in the NBGH and PBGH meetings, also focus on “value” and the use of sticks and carrots to influence the behavior of their employees and pay for performance incentives to influence providers.