Quality circles to improve prescribing patterns in primary medical care: what is their actual impact?

J Eval Clin Pract. 2004 Aug;10(3):457-66. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2753.2004.00517.x.


Rationale, aims and objectives: Quality circles comprise small group sessions of doctors and written feedback on their individual practice patterns. Although 50% of German primary care doctors participate in quality circles, their effectiveness has hardly been evaluated in Germany. This study determined the impact of a large-scale programme of quality circles on quality and costs of prescribing.

Method: A controlled before-after study was performed, in which primary care doctors were allocated to a quality circles group or a control group. Subjects were 100,000 patients in 1996 and in 1998, who had visited one of 177 doctors in the 3 month registration periods in one region in Germany. The intervention comprised a quality circles programme, comprising 11 sessions and repeated feedback on prescribing. Main outcome measures were proportion of patients who received a prescription, mean prescription costs per patient and proportion of generic prescriptions.

Results: The absolute numbers of prescriptions decreased in both groups, but the mean prescription costs per patient increased. The quality circles reduced the proportion of patients who received a prescription (OR = 0.86) and the mean prescription costs per patient (B = -3.99 euro), while it increased the proportion of generic drugs (OR = 1.10). The intervention had intended effects on four of the 15 secondary indicators.

Conclusions: Large-scale application of quality circles had intended effects on prescribing decisions in primary care in Germany. The effects found in this study may reflect better what improvements can be achieved than randomized trials of similar interventions.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Comparative Study
  • Controlled Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Drug Costs
  • Drug Prescriptions*
  • Germany
  • Humans
  • Management Quality Circles*
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians'*
  • Primary Health Care / economics
  • Primary Health Care / organization & administration
  • Primary Health Care / standards*