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Measuring What Matters

One strategy for improving health care quality is to measure what matters most in health care. We need better quality measures to do this. Comparing health plans by how many patients get mammograms each year doesn't tell you much. Knowing how many patients say they are "satisfied" with their health plan doesn't help much, either. People answer differently based on their mood. And magazines usually judge the "best" hospitals by asking doctors what they think. But that only tells us what doctors like. It doesn't tell us how well the hospital cares for patients.

Not long ago, researchers were the only ones who tried to measure the quality of care. Now breast cancer survivors and activists bring a unique and important viewpoint to this issue. So we should help shape, judge, and improve research on the quality of breast cancer care.

Once we measure something about breast cancer care, the public needs to know the results. People need to know about the quality of care in this country. That's true whether it's good news or bad.

How You Can Make a Difference:

Learn more about quality measures.

Researchers tend to measure things that are easy to count. For example, how many women over age 50 got a mammogram last year? This is easy to measure, but the answer to this question isn't very helpful. It doesn't tell us anything about what happened after the woman got a mammogram. Some important questions include:

  • Were the women who got mammograms given accurate diagnoses?
  • Did those with abnormal mammograms get needed follow-up care?
  • Were they informed of all of their treatment options?
  • Were they told about clinical trials and if they could join one?
  • Were they treated with respect?
  • Were problems solved quickly and fairly?

NBCCF is interested in creating better quality measures for breast cancer. We want to use the core values presented in this guide to judge the quality of breast cancer care. Our vision and core values say what we think matters most in health care.

More and better quality measures will create more and better information about the quality of care in the United States. This information will help:

  • consumers make more informed choices about their care;
  • purchasers of health care make value-based purchasing decisions;
  • the health care industry focus and prioritize its quality improvement efforts;
  • advocates direct their passion and energy; and
  • the public hold the system accountable.

Contact the National Health Law Program to learn more about quality measures. Ask for a copy of their fact sheet, "Getting the Best Out of Managed Care #2: Understanding Quality Measures."

Help measure the quality of breast cancer care.

Ask for a meeting with your local breast cancer center or hospital. Ask them how they measure what works for breast cancer care. And ask what they do with that information.

Ask your local breast cancer center or hospital to see their quality improvement plan. If they don't have one, they should make one. Insist that breast cancer activists work as partners in making the plan. Maybe they have a plan, but it is confusing to you. If so, ask them to explain exactly what it really means. Then you can suggest how to make it better. Base your comments on what you wish you had known when you were a patient.

Work with local health plans and centers to measure and reduce medical errors. Medical errors are mistakes that could be prevented. Many states have programs to track and prevent medical errors. To learn more, contact the Institute of Medicine (IOM). Ask for its report, "To Err is Human: Building a Safer Health System." You may also want to ask for a copy of its report, "Crossing the Quality Chasm: A New Health System for the 21st Century." This report gives excellent advice for improving the quality of care in the United States.

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2001, 2002, 2006 National Breast Cancer Coalition Fund
Last reviewed: March 2006