July 01, 2015

Not All Health Care is the Same: Variation in Quality

It stands to reason that everyone wants the best quality of health care, but, sadly, not all health care is the same; some is better than others. That’s why it’s so important for patients and their families to play an active role in their own health care.

Many factors can contribute to differences in the quality of care patients receive. Variations can be found by geographic region, ethnicity and economic status, as well as by the education, training and experience of health care professionals and the accessibility of services. Some variation in the quality of care is understandable, but that does not make low quality of care acceptable.

When we talk about “quality” of care, it’s important to note that personal preferences, such as office décor, room temperature and reading material are not under review; nor are such factors as the demeanor of clinic employees, the length of time it takes to get an appointment, or the time spent waiting to see the doctor.

While these are all contributors to a pleasant experience in a health care setting, they are not what more and more organizations measure for “quality.” Rather, quality is evaluated according to established "standards of care" that experts agree all health care providers should follow. These standards include ordering certain lab tests on a specific schedule to monitor cholesterol and blood sugar, not over-prescribing treatments such as antibiotics or x-rays for certain conditions and making sure patients take medications as they were prescribed.

On a quantitative level, health care can be evaluated through these recognized quality measures, a set of standards that all healthcare providers in Wisconsin and across the country should follow in order to provide the recommended care, improve patient health outcomes and manage their practices.

Qualitatively, the relationship between doctor and patient is also, some would say ‘equally,’ important. For high quality care, health care professionals and patients must communicate well and work together as partners for the best possible outcome. Cultural and language differences may not just hinder good communication, but can lead to medical complications and emotional distress. When cultural differences and language barriers exist, it’s vital to find volunteers or professionals who can help bridge those gaps.

The website MyHealthWI.org is a good resource for learning about quality of care. Along with a reference list of quality measures for common conditions, simple stories instruct patients on how to get the care they deserve. The site also shows how clinics in Wisconsin rate according to quality measures.

Not all health care is the same, but, in a perfect world, none should be better than others. High quality health care is not a given, but a goal. It is something health care professionals, patients and their families must work together to achieve.