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Wednesday, December 05, 2007 9:00 PM

Navigating Health Care: How to Spot High-Quality Health Care

Debra: Recent research shows quality health care can help people stay healthy and recover faster if they become sick. However, all too often, people do not get the high-quality health care they deserve. Here to offer tips for navigating the health care system is AHRQ Director Dr. Carolyn Clancy. Dr. Clancy, what is health care quality?

Dr. Clancy: Health care quality is the right care, for the right person, at the right time, every time. This applies to getting medicines, tests and counseling that you need and also make sure that you get the services that give you the best results. We know a lot more about what health care quality means than we did just ten years ago, and as our knowledge of health care quality evolves, we gain a much better understanding of the types of treatments that work best whether it’s for a serious disease, a chronic condition, or a common childhood illness.

Debra: Can you give me an example?

Dr. Clancy: One great example is ear infections in children. They’re one of the most common reasons that parents bring their kids to the doctor’s office. Often because children have pain and a fever and they’re crying, parents expect providers to prescribe antibiotics. But we now know that more than 80% of children with ear infections get better within three days without antibiotics. We also know prescribing antibiotics too often can make the bacteria that cause some ear infections resistant to antibiotics. This means that future ear infections may be harder to treat. So, this example clearly shows that getting a prescription for an antibiotic to treat an ear infection is not always the best treatment. High quality health care depends on striking a balance in the tests and medicines that you receive.

Debra: What do you mean by striking a balance?

Dr. Clancy: Quality health care, the right care for the right person at the right time, should avoid overuse, under use and misuse of services. So high quality care means that you get all the proper routine screenings you need, like screening for high blood pressure. However, it also ensures that you’re not getting tests that you don’t need or that may actually harm you, and high quality care avoids issues like prescription medications with dangerous interactions.

Debra: What can I do, as a patient, to make sure that I’m getting quality care?

Dr. Clancy: There are a number of steps that you can take. First and foremost, ask questions. It’s very, very important to ask questions until you’re satisfied that you understand. For example, if you’re scheduled to have a medical test, here are some of the questions that you might want to ask: What is the test for? Why are we doing this? How is the test done? What are the benefits and risks of having this test? When will I get the results? And what will these results tell me?

Debra: So, be proactive and ask questions. What else should I be doing?

Dr. Clancy: You need to make sure you understand the information or the answers to the questions presented to you, especially information about medications. Also, another very important step is to make sure that you get the results of any test that you have done.

Debra: It seems like what you are saying is that part of ensuring you get high-quality health care is being involved in the health care that you and your family get.

Dr. Clancy: That’s right. It’s very important for people to be involved in their own health care. AHRQ has a booklet called Guide to Health Care Quality How to Know It When You See It. The book contains information on how to make quality a key factor in all your health care decisions.

Debra: Thank you Dr. Clancy. Copies of the booklet are available on the AHRQ Web site at www.ahrq.gov/consumer.

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