[Efficiency versus quality in the NHS, in Portugal: methodologies for evaluation]

Acta Med Port. 2008 Sep-Oct;21(5):397-410. Epub 2009 Jan 16.
[Article in Portuguese]


To proceed to the evaluation of the efficiency and quality in the NHS, based in methodologies of evaluation of management, indicators of benchmarking and indicators of process and outcome. The 1980 and 1990 decades have seen the proliferation of all forms of process indicators as a way to control health services. It is not a coincidence that the increase in managed care has been accompanied by an explosion of process indicators, as it has happened in the health system of the USA. More recently the attention has turned away from measures of performance, which measure the process (what has been done) to those which measure outcomes (what was the result). Quality indicators have been developed in Europe, first to be used in hospitals, but also to be used in primary health care. Conceptually the justification for the introduction of process indicators comes from the principle that their use will reinforce a modification in the quality of the proceedings, which will give origin to better outcomes as well at population level, as resource saving. Outcome indicators compared with process indicators in health care shows that process indicators have the advantage of being more sensitive than outcome indicators to differences in the quality. Optimizing health care quality has the objective of establishing a quantitative relationship between the quality of the health services and cost-effectiveness. To identify quality indicators and benchmarking and to implement plans to measure the quality of health care. In a study made in a group of senior GP, in the UK, with the objective of determining which process indicators better reflect the quality of the services in primary health care services a Delphi method was used. Only seven indicators were chosen by 75% of the respondents: the percentage of eligible patients receiving cervical screening; the percentage of generic prescribing; the percentage of eligible patients receiving childhood immunization; the percentage of eligible patients receiving influenza vaccinations; ability to see GP within 48 hours; percentage prescribing antibacterial drugs; primary care management (diabetes and asthma). The main characteristics of health indicators are: acceptability--The acceptability of the data collected using a measure will depend upon the extent to which the findings are acceptable to both those being assessed and those undertaking the assessment; feasibility--information about the quality of services is often driven by data availability rather than by epidemiological and clinical considerations. Quality measurement cannot be achieved without accurate and consistent information systems; reliability--indicators should be used to compare organisations/practitioners with similar organisations/practitioners; sensitivity to change--quality measures must be capable of detecting changes in quality of care in order to discriminate between and within subjects; validity--there has been little methodological scrutiny of the validity of consensus methods. Outcome indicators are not good performance indicators in health care. Which causes the variation in outcomes between deliverers of primary health care services are the observed differences due to differences in users, due to age, sex, co-morbidity, severity and socio-economic situation. The Medical Outcomes Study, published in 1989, has brought, for the first time, subjective indicators, based in the evaluation of users, as an important outcome indicator. Clinical indicators are those that are more associated with the outcomes. A few studies exist of the effects of management indicators in outcomes. Several indicators, however, reflect norms related with the local of work. The use of a Composite Indicator presents advantages. In England it has been used a Composite Indicator of process indicators in 302 organizations of primary health care, in 2001-2002. This study has used a mathematical model to select the best indicators which allow the evaluation of performance. It has concluded that the use of a Composite Indicator is of easy construction, interpretation, and acceptable and that has validity. Giraldes (2007) has done an evaluation of health centres in a perspective of management and quality of deliver using a Composite Indicator of Efficiency and Quality. It includes the efficiency indicators concerned with the main activities of the health centre, preventive activities, curative activities and drugs, by main pharmaco therapeutic groups, and auxiliary means of diagnosis (analysis, X Ray, ecographies and CAT by user, weighted according to the relevance of the expenditure in total expenditure). The Composite Quality Indicator includes 12 performance and 5 outcome indicators. From the 10 best health centres in an efficiency and quality perspective 3 are from the Porto Sub-Region (Negrelos, Rebordosa and Paredes) and 2 from the Braga Sub-Region (Vila Verde and Vila Nova de Famalicão I), Leiria (Pedrogão Grande and Batalha), and Vila Real (Mesão Frio and Sabrosa), while 1 belongs to the Aveiro Sub-Region (Sever do Vouga). The more efficient health centres are from the Aveiro Sub-Region, followed by Braga, Porto, and Lisboa. Sub-Regions with very similar values. Giraldes (2007) has made an evaluation of the hospital expenditure by user in an efficiency perspective and to evaluate the quality of the health system process indicators and outcome indicators. In an efficiency perspective the concept of technical efficiency has been chosen, and a correction has been made, as well, in what concerns a case-mix index (CMI). The indicators have been calculated by user in what concerns the main hospital activities (the expenditure in inpatient care by treated patient, in day hospital by treated patient, in outpatient care by consultation, etc.) and as well the auxiliary sections of clinic support and the hotel support services. All the indicators have been corrected according to the relevance of its expenditure in total expenditure. In a quality perspective two types of indicators have been considered; process indicators and outcome indicators. Process indicators, as the percentage of surgeries in ambulatory care, the percentage of cesareans in total deliveries and the rate of autopsy. The outcome indicator number of episodes of inpatient care due to surgery infection in total days of inpatient care. Those indicators have been aggregated, by a mean. The Composite Indicator of Efficiency and Quality is the mean of the Composite Indicator of Efficiency and the Composite Indicator of Quality, having this one been converted in inverse base.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • English Abstract

MeSH terms

  • Delivery of Health Care / standards*
  • Efficiency, Organizational*
  • Health Facilities
  • Portugal
  • Quality Indicators, Health Care*