Background: Quality circles (QC) are viewed as one of the most important tools of quality improvement and continuing education in ambulatory care. Yet, little is known about the quality of QC work.
Methods: From 1995 to 2007, an external assessment of QC work took place at four regional Associations of Statutory Health Insurance (SHI) Physicians. After each meeting, QC leaders completed questionnaires. This basic documentation focused on important features of QC work--continuity, topics, methods, results and satisfaction.
Results: 28,800 meetings in 1,640 quality circles were documented, and 27,255 documents from 1,241 groups analysed. Continuity was high over long periods, and medical topics were dealt with in more than 80% of the time. The use of appropriate methods, however, have room for improvement. Participants were very satisfied.
Conclusions: For the first time the quality of QC structures, processes and results was assessed in Germany using a broad dataset. The working principles of QC appear to be well-established. Using the basic documentation practical recommendations are made to improve the quality of QC.