The current national measure set for the quality of health care underrepresents the spectrum of outpatient care and makes limited use of readily available national ambulatory care survey data.
We examined 23 outpatient quality indicators in 1992 and again in 2002 to measure overall performance and racial/ethnic disparities in outpatient care in the United States. The National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey and the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey yielded information about ambulatory services provided in private physician offices and hospital outpatient departments, respectively. Quality indicator performance was defined as the percentage of applicable visits receiving appropriate care.
In 2002, mean performance was 50% or more of applicable visits for 12 quality indicators, 7 of which were in the areas of appropriate antibiotic use and avoiding unnecessary routine screening. The performance of the remaining 11 indicators ranged from 15% to 42%. Overall, changes between 1992 and 2002 were modest, with significant improvements in 6 indicators: treatment of depression (47% vs 83%), statin use for hyperlipidemia (10% vs 37%), inhaled corticosteroid use for asthma in adults (25% vs 42%) and children (11% vs 36%), avoiding routine urinalysis during general medical examinations (63% vs 73%), and avoiding inappropriate medications in the elderly (92% vs 95%). After adjusting for potential confounders, race/ethnicity did not seem to affect quality indicator performance, except for greater angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitor use for congestive health failure among blacks and less unnecessary antibiotic use for uncomplicated upper respiratory tract infections among whites.
Measurable quality deficits and modest improvements across time call for greater adherence to evidence-based medicine in US ambulatory settings. Although significant racial disparities have been described in a variety of settings, we observed that similar, although less than optimal, care is being provided on a per-visit basis regardless of patient racial/ethnic background.