Quality of Care

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High quality health care is timely, safe, effective, and affordable–the right care for the right person at the right time. High quality care in inpatient and outpatient settings can help protect and improve health and reduce the likelihood of receiving unnecessary or inappropriate care.

Why Is Quality of Care Important to Health?

Evidence-based decisions, performance assessment, and explicit efforts to improve quality, reduce errors, and involve patients in care decisions are often components of high quality health care. Such care requires providers, health systems, and others to work together to improve health outcomes and patient satisfaction while containing costs1.

Despite efforts towards higher quality care, an estimated 30% of patients did not receive recommended preventive care or treatment in 2009. Poor care coordination within and among facilities can lead to poor health outcomes and readmissions; about 20% of discharged elderly patients return to the hospital within 30 days1. Hospital acquired infections killed about 100,000 Americans in 2007, and between 44,000 and 98,000 Americans are estimated to die from medical errors each year2.

Quality varies widely by state, race, ethnicity, and income2,3. Blacks, Hispanics, American Indians and those with low incomes often get lower quality care than non-Hispanic whites and those with high incomes2. One study found that minorities get lower quality care than their counterparts even when insurance status, income, and condition are accounted for3

Even with the highest per capita health care spending in the world, the US has shorter lifespans and higher infant mortality rates than other wealthy nations4. Several studies estimate that at least 30% of US health expenditures are on practices and procedures that do not improve health1. Preventable hospitalizations cost $26 billion in 2009, and in 2008, medical errors cost nearly $20 billion2.

Adopting and implementing initiatives to improve the quality of health care in all settings can help us all get the care we need when we need it, leading to longer, healthier lives, and healthier, more productive communities.


1 Cosgrove D, Fisher M, Gabow P, et al. A CEO checklist for high-value health care. Washington, DC: Institute of Medicine (IOM); June 2012.
2 Clancy C, Munier W, Brady J, et al. 2012 National healthcare quality report. Rockville, MD: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ); 2013.
3 Bridges K. M. Implicit Bias and Racial Disparities in Health Care. Human Rights Magazine. 2021.
4 Munira Z. G., Evan D. G., & Reginald D.W. U.S. Health Care from a Global Perspective 2022: Accelerating Spending, Worsening Outcomes. Commonwealth Fund; Jan. 2023.


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