Improving Quality and Safety

Despite some progress, the nation still faces an urgent need to build a less error-prone system that delivers better care.

Although the U.S. spends more per person on health care than any other nation, the quality of that care frequently falls far short of what it should. 

A 2001 Institute of Medicine (IOM) report found that U.S. health care was insufficiently safe, effective, patient-centered, efficient, timely, or equitable. It also noted that preventable medical errors caused an estimated 44,000 – 98,000 inpatient hospital deaths per year.

The latest research reveals that while some progress has been made, there is still a considerable distance to go. The cost in human life or reduced health exacted by medical errors and quality shortfalls is the most pressing reason to push forward, but the need to control ever-escalating health costs adds urgency. The Affordable Care Act’s quality-related provisions—including hospital pay-for-performance programs and other “value-based” strategies—are expected to jumpstart quality improvement efforts over the next several years.

This Health Policy Brief examines the major efforts undertaken to better define health care quality and identify the most meaningful ways to measure it, and was published online on May 12, 2011 in Health Affairs.