Background: The core values of general practice include holism and patient-centredness. None of the measures of quality of care in general practice presently capture the expression of these values at routine consultations.
Objectives: The aim of the present study was to construct a 'consultation quality index' (CQI) which reflects the core values of general practice, using as proxies 'consultation length' and how well patients 'know the doctor' as process measures and 'patient enablement' as an outcome measure.
Methods: The CQI was constructed from data collected from 23 799 adult English-speaking patients consulting 221 doctors in four demographically contrasting areas of the UK during 2 weeks of March/April 1998. A total of 171 doctors who entered 50 qualifying consultations were allocated scores for the three component variables, and a total CQI was calculated.
Results: CQI scores were in the range 4-18. Validity was examined by looking at high and low scorers in greater detail and by searching for correlates with case mix, patient age and gender, and the deprivation scores of the practices concerned. Particular attention was paid to how registrars and doctors new to their practices scored. The scores of different doctors in the same practice were also noted. The results had strong face validity and were independent of case mix and deprivation. Reliability was gauged by examining similar work from a previous study which had collected information on consultation length and enablement over three time periods. High CQI scores were associated with smaller overall practice list sizes.
Conclusions: We have outlined possible uses for the CQI as part of the packages assessing quality of care by doctors and practices. The measure may also have a part to play in recognizing poorly performing doctors. We suggest how CQI scores could contribute to an incentive scheme to reward good consulting practice. Further work is in hand to compare doctors' CQI scores with scores based on performance indicators constructed from routine NHS data on prescribing and preventive medicine.