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Wednesday, March 12, 2008 2:00 PM

Navigating Health Care: Dr. Clancy Reviews the Results of AHRQ’s 2007 Healthcare Quality and Disparities Reports

Rand: In this segment on Navigating the Healthcare System, AHRQ Director Dr. Carolyn Clancy unveils new editions of annual AHRQ reports that shed light on America’s access to high quality health care. Dr. Clancy, welcome.

Dr. Clancy: Thank you.

Rand: AHRQ has released its 2007 National Healthcare Quality Report and National Healthcare Disparities Report. Dr. Clancy, can you tell us a little bit about these reports and their purpose.

Dr. Clancy: Every year, the National Healthcare Quality Report and the National Healthcare Disparities Report measure trends in quality and access within the U.S. health care system. This is the fifth year of the reports that measure quality and disparities in four areas: effectiveness of care, patient safety, timeliness of care and patient centeredness. The National Healthcare Quality Report tracks how the health care system is doing by looking at such items as the number of heart attack patients who got the right care, or the proportion of children who receive recommended vaccinations. The National Healthcare Disparities Report looks at how quality and access trends differ among minority populations or people with lower incomes.

Rand: What are the most significant findings of this year’s data?

Dr. Clancy: This year’s reports, which rely on more than 50,000 quality measurements dating to 1994, found that the gains we’ve seen in health care quality are slowing down. For instance, between 1995 and 2005, quality improved 2.3 percent on average each year. But between 2000 and 2005, our data shows quality improved by only an average of one and a half percent per year. So we can see that quality is still improving, but not as rapidly as we’d like. The reports affirm that poor Americans and minorities often receive lower quality care. In many cases, those disparities are driven by a lack of health insurance. The reports show that lack of insurance, for example, makes it less likely people will have a regular doctor or get needed tests. Clearly, more needs to be done to ensure that high quality health care is equally available to everyone.

Rand: What can consumers do to try to improve their access to quality health care?

Dr. Clancy: Ask questions! Consumers need to partner with clinicians because their involvement is a so important to getting high quality care. AHRQ has developed tools and information to help consumers be involved, ask questions, and learn more about the ways they can stay healthy. The Be an Active Health Care Consumer" page on AHRQ’s Web site features advice on what to do after a diagnosis, five steps to take for safer care, tips on how to avoid medication errors, and other valuable information about being an active health care consumer. In addition, other organizations have developed information about medical conditions and hospital quality. Healthfinder.gov and medlineplus.gov are two particularly good ones. Think of it this way: Most of us wouldn’t buy a car until we researched the safety features, the costs of repairs and other features. We need to do the same with the health care services that we and our loved ones need and use. Don’t wait until our health care system is perfect. The sooner you become involved, the better off you and our health care system will be.

Rand: Dr. Clancy, thanks for joining us.

Dr. Clancy: My pleasure.

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