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Healthcare Quality Shows Slow Improvement

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media, March 2, 2011

Healthcare quality continues to progress, albeit slowly—about 2.3% a year. Disparities based on race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status and other factors, however, remain unacceptably high, according to the 2010 National Healthcare Quality Report and National Healthcare Disparities Report issued this week by the Department of Health & Human Services' Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

The reports, mandated by Congress, are based on more than 200 healthcare measures categorized in several areas of quality: effectiveness, patient safety, timeliness, patient-centeredness, care coordination, efficiency, health system infrastructure, and access.

"All Americans should have access to high-quality, appropriate and safe healthcare that helps them achieve the best possible health, and these reports show that we are making very slow progress toward that goal," said AHRQ Director Carolyn M. Clancy, MD. "We need to ramp up our overall efforts to improve quality and focus specific attention on areas that need the greatest improvement."

Healthcare quality gains were seen in several areas, with the highest rates of improvement in measures related to treatment of acute illnesses or injuries. For example, the proportion of heart attack patients who underwent procedures to unblock heart arteries within 90 minutes improved from 42% in 2005 to 81% in 2008. Very modest gains were seen in rates of screening for preventive services and child and adult immunization.

Measures of lifestyle modifications such as reducing obesity, smoking cessation and substance abuse saw no improvement.

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