Friday, 16 November 2012

Measuring improvement in the quality of care after reconfiguration of NHS services

I asked a question at a public meeting of our local Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee. They have a slot for questions from the public.  I asked if the PCT and hospital would provide a baseline from which to measure the improvement in care promised as a result of the centralising of services on one hospital site.   

I have posted a couple of stories about the difficulty I have had in getting an answer to this relatively simple but important question:  "Like getting blood from a stone" & "What is a 'benefits realisation'?".  I finally arranged a meeting with the hospital managers who are delivering the data. It is really important to talk to the right people.

They were very helpful and, despite being busy implementing the changes, they spared an hour of their time to talk with me about how they are measuring the quality of care.  They reassured me that they have plenty of quantitative data, such as re-admission rates, length of stay, avoidable admissions and mortality rates from before the changes and they will be collecting similar data from the newly reconfigured services.   Now that is good news.

They will not be publishing the data until they have the first set of new data so that there can be a comparison made between the old and the new.   This data will be collected routinely and published regularly. More good news.

We had a discussion about how to present the results in a form that the patients and public can understand.  Not an easy problem to solve. 

We also talked about using qualitative data from the patient experience to complement the hard numbers.  Now I think that the patient experience is a really good test of quality.  The government thinks so too because the 'Friends and Family' test depends on patients feeling they had a 'good' experience in a hospital.  I am not sure that any time spent in hospital can be considered good though.  This sort of data is more difficult to get and use but we agreed that it is important as the patient can have a different perspective compared to a healthcare professional or a manager. 

The hospital has been collecting this sort of information for some years and they said that they will be using it in the baseline measure as well as in the future. 

So my question has been answered at last and I feel reasonably certain that they have the data, both quantitative and qualitative, to measure the quality of the services in some way. 

What will be more interesting is what will the patients and public make of it?  Do they care about tables and charts showing that the number of people re-admitted within 28 days has been reduced by 5%?  Will they care that 95% of patients in a recent survey said that they had a satisfactory experience in the hospital?  Will they use this data to compare the quality of different service providers? Will quality information from other providers be comparable? 

Only time will tell.

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