Is health care ready for Six Sigma quality?

Milbank Q. 1998;76(4):565-91, 510. doi: 10.1111/1468-0009.00106.


Serious, widespread problems exist in the quality of U.S. health care: too many patients are exposed to the risks of unnecessary services; opportunities to use effective care are missed; and preventable errors lead to injuries. Advanced practitioners of industrial quality management, like Motorola and General Electric, have committed themselves to reducing the frequency of defects in their business processes to fewer than 3.4 per million, a strategy known as Six Sigma Quality. In health care, quality problems frequently occur at rates of 20 to 50 percent, or 200,000 to 500,000 per million. In order to approach Six Sigma levels of quality, the health care sector must address the underlying causes of error and make important changes: adopting new educational models; devising strategies to increase consumer awareness; and encouraging public and private investment in quality improvement.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Delivery of Health Care / standards
  • Delivery of Health Care / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Health Services Misuse / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Industry / standards*
  • Male
  • Medical Errors / prevention & control
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Occupational Health / statistics & numerical data
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care
  • Pregnancy
  • Quality Assurance, Health Care / classification
  • Quality Assurance, Health Care / methods*
  • Quality Assurance, Health Care / statistics & numerical data
  • Quality Indicators, Health Care / statistics & numerical data*
  • Total Quality Management / methods
  • United States
  • Utilization Review