Healthcare quality improves while disparities continue

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The overall quality of healthcare in this country continued to improve from 2000 through 2015, particularly in the areas of person-centered care and patient safety.

That’s the finding of the 2016 National Healthcare Quality and Disparities Report just released by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. AHRQ’s annual report, mandated by Congress, is based on more than 250 measures of quality and disparities covering a broad array of healthcare services and settings.

According to AHRQ, about 80 percent of quality measures improved for person-centered care, which evaluates how well patients are directly involved in decisions about their healthcare. In addition, nearly two-thirds of patient safety measures improved overall.

Also See: AHRQ funds target research, IT tools to improve patient safety

At the same time, about 60 percent of healthy living measures improved, while more than half of effective treatment measures improved overall and about half of care coordination measures also improved overall.

“Each of these trends is encouraging—similar to previous years—however, the report found that the quality of care was often uneven when measured between racial, ethnic, and income groups,” wrote Sharon Arnold, deputy director of AHRQ, in a blog.

Although 20 percent of measures showed disparities getting smaller for African Americans and Hispanics, most disparities have not changed significantly for any racial and ethnic groups and disparities persist, according to the report—especially for poor and low-income households and those without insurance.

“In this area of health disparities, some of the data were promising—disparities in quality and access to care among Blacks and Hispanics, for example, declined in about 20 percent of measures,” added Arnold. “But most disparities did not significantly improve—and in some cases widened.”

Case in point: more than half of measures showed that poor and low-income households have worse care than high-income households; for middle-income households, more than 40 percent of measures showed worse care than high-income households. And, almost two-thirds of measures showed that uninsured people had worse care than privately insured people.

Arnold noted that visits to emergency departments for mental healthcare increased significantly among the poor, from about 1,400 per 100,000 in 2007 to nearly 2,000 per 100,000 in 2014.

“That increase was nearly double the change in such visits among high-income adults during the same period,” she added.

AHRQ concludes that policymakers, researchers, and others can leverage the report’s findings to “direct future efforts toward making healthcare more coordinated, affordable, and equitable.”

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