What is Quality Health Care?

“Quality health care means doing the right thing, at the right time, in the right way, for the right person – and having the best possible results.”[2]

Quality in health care can be hard to understand and even harder to measure.  According to Stanford Hospitals and Clinics overview of “What is Quality?” patients and families know quality care when they experience it – it can be a nurse’s response time, a doctor’s bedside manner, the hospital’s atmosphere—all of these things affect how people feel about the quality of their health care.


When hospitals talk about quality, it is generally in reference to very specific clinical data collected and analyzed over a period of time. Quality measurement isn’t always easy. Different agencies and groups have different ways of reporting clinical outcomes that can affect the way they rate a hospital on a certain quality measure. Reporting systems can also be cumbersome or costly, making ratings even more difficult to produce. Today, there are limits to the numbers of conditions, treatments, and procedures that are reported and monitored, but as data systems and methods improve, more and more information will be available.

Quality data show how well a department or institution achieves desired health outcomes for a particular procedure, often by tracking how closely clinical staff meet standards of care. Here are examples of quality of care and what a consumer should expect:

  • Safe: Avoiding injuries to patients from the care that is intended to help them
  • Effective: Providing services based on scientific knowledge and best practice
  • Patient-centered: Providing care that is respectful of and responsive to individual patient preferences, needs and values, ensuring that patients' values guide all clinical decisions
  • Timely: Reducing waits and sometimes harmful delays for both those who receive and provide care
  • Efficient: Avoiding waste, including waste of equipment, supplies, ideas and energy
  • Equitable: Providing care that does not vary in quality because of personal characteristics such as gender, ethnicity, geographic location, and socio-economic status

According to the Wisconsin Hospitals Accountable for Quality, everyone deserves quality health care. Individuals are receiving quality care if it: 

  • Fits their needs and preferences
  • Does not cause harm
  • Is the right treatment option for their illness
  • Provided without unnecessary delays
  • Includes only the medical tests and procedures that they need
  • Is not affected by such things as gender, language, color, age or income

Below is an overview of considerations designed to help consumers determine what the best quality of care is when they are sick or hurt:

  • Determine your needs, then talk with your doctor or nurse about your options
  • Before you choose a doctor or hospital, learn about how well they provide the care you need
  • If you do not have Internet access at home, you may find help at the public library
  • Make a list of all the medicines you take, your major illnesses and injuries and share this list with your doctor
  • Make a list of questions you want to ask your doctor about your health problem or operation and what you need to do
  • Take a family member or friend along to your doctor visit to help you, if needed
  • Take your medicines the way your doctor tells you to. Follow her or his instructions
  • Take care of yourself
  • Take a family member or friend along to your doctor visit to help you, if needed