Serious efforts to address quality require coordinated, multi-faceted, multi-level strategies that address the organisational environments and cultures that affect how care is provided. Most efforts over the past 50 years to improve the care provided by physicians and other clinicians have been individually rather than system based. Such individual interventions to modify physician behaviour typically have only modest effects whether considering the recognition and treatment of depression in primary care, following established practice guidelines, carrying out preventive interventions, monitoring and managing chronic illness appropriately, or managing pain and end-of-life care. It is increasingly recognised that quality of care is a property of health systems. Internal efforts to shape clinical routines, such as performance incentives and disease-management approaches, and external inducements and constraints that shape how clinical contexts are organised and function are equally relevant. Internal factors include the skills training of clinical personnel, organisational procedures and mechanisms to coordinate care and prevent errors, implementation of best practices, effective use of informational technologies and appropriate incentives. External factors include broader financial and reimbursement mechanisms, regulatory arrangements that protect access and patient rights in situations of vulnerability and performance-based contracts. The mobilisation of effective advocacy, independent and non-profit statutory watchdog organisations, and good consumer information can facilitate and reinforce quality efforts. System integration is admittedly difficult, and always incomplete, but movement toward this goal is an essential strategic objective.