Background: The aim of the study was to assess the face validity of quality indicators being proposed for use in general practice by health authorities.
Method: A national survey of health authorities was carried out to identify quality indicators being proposed for use in general practice. A two-stage Delphi process was used to establish general practitioners' (GPs') and health authority managers' views on the face validity of identified indicators. A total of 240 separate indicators identified by health authorities and the NHS Executive as potential markers of the quality of general practice care were assessed. Indicators related to access, organizational performance, preventive care, care for a small number of chronic diseases, prescribing and gatekeeping. The subjects were a purposive sample of 47 health authority managers and 57 general practice course organizers.
Results: Thirty-six indicators received median validity scores of 8 or 9 out of a maximum possible score of 9. Of this set, 83 per cent was rated identically by both groups of respondents. Prescribing and gatekeeping indicators generally received low validity scores.
Conclusion: Acceptable face valid indicators were identified for all domains except gatekeeping. However, the indicators rated by the sample do not cover all aspects of care. No indicators were proposed for use by health authorities relating to effective communication, care of acute illness, health outcomes or patient evaluation. Although it is possible to develop indicators of general practice care which have face validity in the view of both GPs and managers, these will be very partial measures of quality. In the indicators used in this study, no explicit distinction was made between indicators designed to assess minimum standards with which all practices should comply, and indicators which could be used to reward higher levels of performance. Failure to separate these will result in antagonism from practitioners to quality improvement initiatives in the NHS, and a failure to engage the profession in improving quality of care.