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What Does Quality in Health Care Mean?

December 17, 2010

Quality health care is easily defined as doing the right thing (getting the health care services you need), at the right time (when you need it), in the right way (using the appropriate test or procedure), to achieve the best possible results.

The Institute of Medicine defines health care quality by six attributes:

  • Safety - patients should not be harmed by the care that is intended to help them
  • Patient-Centered - care should be based on individual needs
  • Timely - waits and delays in care should be reduced
  • Effective - care should be evidence-based
  • Efficient - reduce waste
  • Equitable - care should be equal for all people

So what exactly IS quality health care?
Quality means different things to different people. Some consumers think that getting quality health care means seeing the doctor right away, being treated courteously by the doctor or hospital staff, or having the doctor spend a lot of time with the patient and his family.

While we, as a hospital, understand and agree that these things are very important, we believe clinical quality of care is even more significant. Why? Because offering high-quality, evidence-based care (care that is proven) leads to more lives saved and less time in the hospital.

Does quality equal safety?
In many ways, it does. Health care providers, the government and many other groups are working hard to improve health care quality because quality care often means safer care for consumers. Horizon Medical Center is constantly and proactively looking at processes to improve safety and, in turn, quality.

How is health care quality measured? How can I, as a consumer, measure it?
Quality is measured many ways. There are process indicators (those that measure things such as timeliness and baseline practices) and outcome indicators (such as mortality rates, infection rates and complication rates). A consumer can look at these indicators and compare them among hospitals. You should also look at a hospital's state and national recognitions and accreditations (seals of approval). Finally, look at a hospital's awards to help you measure quality.

What are "quality measures" or "quality indicators"?
A quality measure is medical information from patient records converted into a rate or percentage that shows how well hospitals care for their patients. For example, one quality indicator reported is the percentage of heart attack patients who are prescribed aspirin at discharge. Quality measures give you information about how well a hospital provides care for many of its patients. You can use this quality information to help you compare hospitals.

How does Horizon Medical Center compare to others on quality indicators?
Horizon Medical Center does very well on the national level. In the public reported Process of Care measures Horizon ranks above state and national averages and for many of the indicators we rank in the top 10 percent of hospitals nationally.

How important is accreditation? And what are some key accreditations to look for?
Accreditation is another way to judge quality. Accreditation is a "seal of approval" given by a private, independent group. Health care organizations must meet national standards, including clinical measures, in order to be accredited. We try to belong and participate in as many national organizations as possible…seeking accreditation wherever we can.

The Joint Commission (TJC) accredits Horizon Medical Center. TJC is the nation's leading standards-setting and accrediting body in health care; focused on improving the quality and safety of care provided by health care organizations. All of Horizon’s clinical measures have been graded as "performance is above the performance of most accredited organizations," both statewide and nationwide.

What role do nurses and physicians play in quality?
They play a very large role. We couldn't be a quality hospital if our doctors and nurses weren't providing quality care - both clinically and through patient satisfaction. Medicine is an art, not strictly a science, and everyone at the hospital is involved - the receptionist at the front desk, the X-ray technician, the scrub nurse, the hospital administrator, the physician - working together to provide safe, high-quality care.

Horizon’s physicians are board certified by the appropriate specialty Board or they have provided proof of being “board qualified” which means he/she has applied to take and been accepted to take the examination for certification by the appropriate specialty Board. And because Dickson County is such an appealing place to live and work, we can attract the very good physicians and nurses. We also do very well on our nursing-specific quality measures. When measured objectively by an outside source, our nursing staff is considered world-class.

As a patient, what is my role when it comes to quality care? A patient or family member has a key role to play to ensure they receive the best quality care possible. You can do this by being active in your care:

  • Work with your doctor and other members of the health care team to make decisions about your care.
  • Ask questions.
  • Ask your doctor what the scientific evidence has to say about your condition.
  • Do your homework - go online or to the library to find out more about your condition.
  • Find and use quality information in making your health care choices.

How should I use quality information?
Use it wisely and carefully. Information on quality lets consumers and their health care providers compare the quality of care provided in hospitals. This quality information not only helps you make good decisions about your health care, but also encourages hospitals to improve the quality of health care they provide.