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Defining Quality of Care

Tamala S. Bradham

“The definition of insanity is continuing to do the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” ~Albert Einstein.

In one year, National Health Care in the United States grew 4% to $2.5 trillion (or $2,486 billion to be exact) in 2009 or $8,086 per person. This accounts for 17.6% of the Gross Domestic Product consumed in the United States. Medicare spending grew 7.9% to $502.3 billion and Medicaid grew 9% to $373.9 billion in 2009 (CMS, 2011).

The United States has the highest per capita health care costs of any industrialized nation! Increasing costs are reducing access to care and constitute an ever-heavier burden on employers and consumers. Yet as much as 20 to 30 percent of these costs may be unnecessary, or even counterproductive, to improved health (Wennberg, Brownless, Fisher, Skinner, & Weinstein, 2008).

Addressing these unwanted costs is essential in the survival of providing quality health care. Some argue that implementing quality management programs is costly. Others would say that poor quality is costly. There are many definitions and ideas of quality.

According to my old, reliable Webster’s New World Dictionary (Neufeldt & Guralnik, 1988), quality means “any of the features that make something what it is…the degree of excellence which a thing possesses”.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS, 2008) defines quality as “how well the health plan keeps its members healthy or treats them when they are sick. Good quality health care means doing the right thing at the right time, in the right way, for the right person—and getting the best possible results.”

Taking this a step further, I wanted to define quality of care. Interestingly, Wikipedia does not define “quality of care”.

So, lets turn to the experts who wrote the infamous “Crossing the quality chasm: A new health system for the 21st century”.

The National Academy of Medicine (NAM; formerly known as the Institute of Medicine (IOM)) states “quality of care is the degree to which health services for individuals and populations increase the likelihood of desired health outcomes and are consistent with current professional knowledge” (NAM, 1990, p. 21).

NAM developed six specific aims for improvement which consist of the following:
  • Safe: avoiding injuries to patients from the care that is intended to help them.
  • Effective: providing services based on scientific knowledge to all who could benefit, and refraining from providing services to those not likely to benefit.
  • Patient-centered: providing care that is respectful of and responsive to ¬individual patient preferences, needs, and values, and ensuring that patient values guide all clinical decisions.
  • Timely: reducing waits and sometimes harmful delays for both those who receive and those who give care.
  • Efficient: avoiding waste, including waste of equipment, supplies, ideas, and energy.
  • Equitable: providing care that does not vary in quality because of personal characteristics such as gender, ethnicity, geographic location, and socioeconomic status (IOM, 2001).

To further strengthen this definition, the World Health Organization (2006) adopted the above six aims as their working definition of quality of care.

For me, when I think of quality of care, I need a simple definition, sort of like a mission statement – short, succinct, and powerful! So, I turn to Martin Van Buren who said “It is easier to do the job right than explain why you didn’t.”


  • Bradham, T.S. (2011, Invited). Quality 101: What every audiologist and speech-language pathologist should know but was afraid to ask. Perspectives in Hearing and Hearing Disorders in Childhood Deafness, ASHA, 4-7.

Portions of this blog came from an article previously published.

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About the blogger

Tamala Bradham, Ph.D., DHA, CCC-A, CPPS, CPHQ

For 25 years, Dr. Bradham’s career has always centered on developing and implementing new, innovative service delivery models to improve care delivery.

As a clinician, researcher, published author, and professor, she is a multi talented and multifaceted leader that inspires those around her to deliver best practices based on the current state of knowledge, explore opportunities to improve service delivery, and innovate solutions for the tomorrow.

As a partner with 3C Digital Media Network, Dr. Bradham will connect people with great talents and knowledge to the network, collaborate with others to improve and develop oneself, and communicate with genuine passion and transparency.

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