Thursday, May 28, 2009

Updates from AHRQ

AHRQ Report Highlights Health Care Quality, Access Disparities Gap

A new report published by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) finds that health care disparities across at least 60 percent of quality measures stayed the same or worsened between 2000 to 2001 and 2005 to 2006, AHA News Now reports. The National Healthcare Disparities Report takes into account 220 quality measures pertaining to effectiveness, patient safety, timeliness and patient centeredness, focusing on 45 core measures. Outlining three overarching conclusions, the report suggests that disparities persist in health care quality and access, that the magnitude and pattern of disparities vary within subpopulations, and that some disparities exist across multiple priority populations. However, the group also reports a reduction in some disparities. For example, the rate of deaths per 1,000 discharges with complications potentially resulting from care for African-American patients declined between 2000 and 2005, and the gap between African-American and white patients on that measure decreased to the point that African Americans have better outcomes than whites. Meanwhile, saying that patient experience is an important indicator of health care quality but noting that many minorities report poor provider-patient communication, the report suggests that addressing disparities will "require special attention to cultural attitudes and perceptions that affect health behaviors and patterns of health care access and utilization." (AHA News Now, 5/6/09; AHRQ report; HHS release, 5/6/09)

Patients Receiving Only 59 Percent of Recommended Care, AHRQ Finds

The sixth annual National Healthcare Quality Report from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) finds that the quality of care provided by the U.S. health care system continues to improve at a slow pace, but many Americans still do not receive recommended care, AHA News Now reports. The congressionally-mandated analysis tracks trends in health system performance on 45 core measures of the effectiveness, safety, timeliness and patient focus of care. According to the report, the median annual rate of change for all quality measures was 1.4 percent, while the median level of receipt of needed care was 59 percent across the core measures. Measuring improvement across prevention, acute care and chronic care management categories, the AHRQ found that acute treatment measures showed the strongest rate of quality improvement, with 66 percent exhibiting some gains. However, the report indicates that patient safety measures worsened by nearly 1 percent per year during the past six years. Meanwhile, quality improvements continued to be spread unevenly across health care settings. For instance, care delivered in hospitals improved at an annual rate of change of nearly 3 percent, while care provided in ambulatory care settings improved at a rate that only slightly exceeded 1 percent. Commenting on the report's findings, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius urged providers to work harder at reducing health care-associated infections and announced the availability of $50 million in federal stimulus grants to help facilities meet this challenge. Specifically, HHS will allocate $40 million to create or expand state infection and surveillance programs and $10 million to improve processes and increase ambulatory surgical center inspections. Noting that the report demonstrates why the country "can't wait to enact comprehensive health reform," Sebelius, who was speaking at the United Nurses of America's National Nurses Congress, added, "the status quo is unsustainable." (AHA News Now, 5/6/09; AHRQ report, March 2009; AHRQ release, 5/6/09; Goedert, Health Data Management, 5/6/09)

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