Objective: Health care quality monitoring has been introduced in cystic fibrosis (CF) by a few groups and national registries. Based upon this, continuous quality improvement can be achieved by applying the benchmarking method which is focused on learning from best practice.
Setting: A group of 12 CF centres in Germany, treating a total of 1200 patients of all ages, enrolled in a nationwide pilot benchmarking project from 2004 to 2007.
Intervention: Key nutritional and respiratory parameters were used as quality indicators. Numerical benchmarks were set and used for ranking. Applying the plan-do-check-act cycle, quality improvement interventions were introduced, such as harmonization of definitions and references, improvement of measurement standards, data quality, completion of missing data, enforcement of early aggressive antibiotic treatment and individual adaptation of dietary counselling.
Results: Ranking alone was not sufficient for identification of the best performing centres unless it was accompanied by longitudinal follow-up. Improvement was possible in the 3 years' period as shown by benchmarking for single centres that introduced new interventions in nutritional and antibiotic treatment most consequently.
Conclusion: CF provides a model of the link between processes of health care delivery and health outcomes of patients. Quality improvement is a continuous goal in CF care with realistic potential as exemplified by our data. Accountability was introduced and transparency was improved by our pilot benchmarking project. Using the benchmarking procedure, our long-term project will reinforce standards, programmes, and individual attitudes and principles to ensure continuous quality improvement in CF health care.