Background: The diagnosis of Barrett's esophagus (BE) has important psychological and economic implications. Although accepted standards for endoscopic biopsy methods and pathological interpretation for BE exist, adherence to these standards as a measure of the quality of care in BE has not been evaluated. Our aim was to assess the quality of care in BE by evaluating the process of care and adherence to accepted standards of practice.
Methods: Explicit process-of-care criteria were developed using a systematic literature review and expert opinion in four domains of care: the quality of biopsy methods, the adequacy in identifying endoscopic landmarks, endoscopist-pathologist communication, and pathological interpretation and reporting. We reviewed all endoscopy and pathology reports of BE patients at two institutions from 1994-1997. An academic medical center (N = 237) with staff endoscopists and an academically affiliated community hospital (N = 100) with private-practice endoscopists were analyzed.
Results: Physicians showed the highest adherence to accepted standards of care in the "adequacy of identifying landmarks" and "endoscopist-pathologist communication" domains, with a > or =70% adherence rate in most criteria. Conversely, physicians demonstrated the poorest adherence with the "quality of biopsy methods" and "pathologist interpretation and reporting" domains, with adherence rates frequently <60%. Significantly, biopsies were taken in the presence of visible esophagitis 35% of the time. Performance on several of the quality indicators varied significantly by the practice setting.
Conclusions: We have identified several opportunities for quality improvement efforts. In every domain, there is room for improvement, particularly in the quality of biopsy methods. As initiatives to screen the large population of gastroesophageal reflux disease patients for BE may be imminent, the time is now to define the critical process-of-care measures to minimize the risk of overdiagnosis and inadequate endoscopic surveillance.