The 2010 National Healthcare Quality Report and National Healthcare Disparities Report were recently released by the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). The annual reports are mandated by Congress to examine progress and opportunities for improving health care quality and reducing health care disparities. The data presented in these reports are based on approximately 250 health measures, each falling under one of six categories including effectiveness, patient safety, timeliness, patient-centeredness, efficiency and access to care. The reports also incorporate recommendations made by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to ensure that awareness regarding performance in the U.S. health care system is raised. Although the quality and disparities reports have been published separately in the past, this year they have been coalesced to reinforce the necessity of viewing these issues jointly when assessing the health care system.
The 2010 NHQR and 2010 NHDR stress four main points of consideration, if the nation is to improve the quality of the health care system and decrease health disparities. The first finding, a very apparent and recurring theme, is that health care quality and access are suboptimal, especially for minority and low-income groups. Amongst the piles of data, one finds that poor people receive worse care than high-income people for about 80% of core measures. (This unbelievable stratification truly makes you wonder if we live in one of the richest countries in the world).
The second point highlights the improvement in overall quality of care, combined with the stagnant progress in access and disparity measurements. Of the 179 health quality indicators tracked, two-thirds have shown improvement with a 2.3% median rate of change. Indicators regarding access and disparities remained relatively unchanged.
The third theme urges that attention be paid to ensuring improvements in quality and progress on reducing disparities with respect to certain services, geographic areas and populations. Areas of top priority include cancer screening and management of diabetes, states in the central part of the country, residents of inner-city and rural areas and disparities in preventive services and access to care.
The final principle the reports focus on is the uneven nature of the progress being made in respect to the eight national priority areas. (1) End-of-Life Care and (2) Patient and Family Engagement are improving in quality; however (3) Population Health, (4) Safety, and (5) Access are all lagging. Area (6) Care Coordination, (7) Overuse and (8) Health System Infrastructure all require more data to assess. Nevertheless, all eight priority areas did have one theme in common; they all showed disparities related to race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status.
The publication of the eighth NHQR and NHDR will serve as the core data for a continued effort to improve the U.S. health care system. The documents go on to identify arenas in health care where innovative strategies have been used to increase quality of life for patients as well as areas where more work must be done. Conclusively, the report should serve as a foundation for stakeholders to design and target strategies and interventions with the intent of improving the overall health care system and the quality of life for the U.S. population. The quality and disparities reports are available online, by calling 1-800-358-9295 or by sending an E-mail to email@example.com.