Assignment 2: Donabedian’s Model

This week, you were asked to read the classic article by Donabedian on structure, process, and outcomes. This article is fundamental to understanding the evolution of performance improvement in health care and aligns closely with systems thinking. As a current or future health care administration leader, how might Donabedian’s model impact your health services organization?

For this Assignment, review the resources for this week that are specific to Donabedian’s model and reflect on the model for health services organizations. Think about how you might apply Donabedian’s model to a health services organization, including how the model might be important for systems thinking.

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The Assignment: (3–4 pages)

  • Explain how you might apply Donabedian’s model to your health services organization or one with which you are familiar.
  • Describe the structures, processes, and outcomes of the health services organization you selected.
  • Draw a diagram representing Donabedian’s model specific for the health services organization you selected.
  • Explain the importance of understanding Donabedian’s model and how this model links to systems thinking.

link for article

Evaluating the Quality of Medical Care


This paper is an attempt to describe and
evaluate current methods for assessing the quality of medical
care and to suggest some directions for further study. It is con-

cerned with methods rather than findings, and with an evaluation of
methodology in general, rather than a detailed critique of methods in
specific studies.

This is not an exhaustive review of the pertinent literature. Certain key
studies, of course, have been included. Other papers have been selected
only as illustrative examples. Those omitted are not, for that reason, less
worthy of note.

This paper deals almost exclusively with the evaluation of the medi-
cal care process at the level of physician-patient interaction. It excludes,
therefore, processes primarily related to the effective delivery of medi-
cal care at the community level. Moreover, this paper is not concerned
with the administrative aspects of quality control. Many of the studies
reviewed here have arisen out of the urgent need to evaluate and control
the quality of care in organized programs of medical care. Nevertheless,
these studies will be discussed only in terms of their contribution to
methods of assessment and not in terms of their broader social goals.
The author has remained, by and large, in the familiar territory of care
provided by physicians and has avoided incursions into other types of

The Milbank Quarterly, Vol. 83, No. 4, 2005 (pp.


c© 2005 Milbank Memorial Fund. Published by Blackwell Publishing.

Reprinted from The Milbank Memorial Fund Quarterly, Vol. 44, No. 3, Pt. 2, 1966
(pp. 166–203). Style and usage are unchanged.


692 Avedis Donabedian

health care. Also, consideration of the difficult problem of economic
efficiency as a measurable dimension of quality has been excluded.

Three general discussions of the evaluation of quality have been very
helpful in preparing this review. The first is a classic paper by Sheps
which includes an excellent discussion of methods.1 A more recent paper
by Peterson provides a valuable appraisal of the field.2 The paper by
Lerner and Riedel discusses one recent study of quality and raises several
questions of general importance.3

Definition of Quality

The assessment of quality must rest on a conceptual and operationalized
definition of what the “quality of medical care” means. Many problems
are present at this fundamental level, for the quality of care is a remark-
ably difficult notion to define. Perhaps the best-known definition is that
offered by Lee and Jones4 in the form of eight “articles of faith,” some
stated as attributes or properties of the process of care and others as goals
or objectives of that process. These “articles” convey vividly the impres-
sion that the criteria of quality are nothing more than value judgments
that are applied to several aspects, properties, ingredients or dimensions
of a process called medical care. As such, the definition of quality may
be almost anything anyone wishes it to be, although it is, ordinarily, a
reflection of values and goals current in the medical care system and in
the larger society of which it is a part.

Few empirical studies delve into what the relevant dimensions and
values are at any given time in a given setting. Klein et al.,5 found that 24
“administrative officials,” among them, gave 80 criteria for evaluating
“patient care.” They conclude that patient care, like morale, cannot be
considered as a unitary concept and “. . . it seems likely that there will
never be a single comprehensive criterion by which to measure the quality
of patient care.”

Which of a multitude of possible dimensions and criteria are selected
to define quality will, of course, have profound influence on the ap-
proaches and methods one employs in the assessment of medical care.

Approaches to Assessment: What to Assess

The outcome of medical care, in terms of recovery, restoration of func-
tion and of survival, has been frequently used as an indicator of the

Evaluating the Quality of Medical Care 693

quality of medical care. Examples are studies of perinatal mortality,6,7

surgical fatality rates8 and social restoration of patients discharged from
psychiatric hospitals.9

Many advantages are gained by using outcome as the criterion of qual-
ity in medical care. The validity of outcome as a dimension of quality is
seldom questioned. Nor does any doubt exist as to the stability and va-
lidity of the values of recovery, restoration and survival in most situations
and in most cultures, though perhaps not in all. Moreover, outcomes tend
to be fairly concrete and, as such, seemingly amenable to more precise

However, a number of considerations limit the use of outcomes as
measures of the quality of care. The first of these is whether the outcome
of care is, in fact, the relevant measure. This is because outcomes reflect
both the power of medical science to achieve certain results under any
given set of conditions, and the degree to which “scientific medicine,”
as currently conceived, has been applied in the instances under study.
But the object may be precisely to separate these two effects. Sometimes
a particular outcome may be irrelevant, as when survival is chosen as
a criterion of success in a situation which is not fatal but is likely to
produce suboptimal health or crippling conditions.10

Even in situations where outcomes are relevant, and the relevant out-
come has been chosen as a criterion, limitations must be reckoned with.
Many factors other than medical care may influence outcome, and pre-
cautions must be taken to hold all significant factors other than medical
care constant if valid conclusions are to be drawn. In some cases long
periods of time, perhaps decades, must elapse before relevant outcomes
are manifest. In such cases the results are not available when they are
needed for appraisal and the problems of maintaining comparability are
greatly magnified. Also, medical technology is not fully effective and the
measure of success that can be expected in a particular situation is often
not precisely known. For this reason comparative studies of outcome,
under controlled situations, must be used.

Although some outcomes are generally unmistakable and easy to mea-
sure (death, for example) other outcomes, not so clearly defined, can be
difficult to measure. These include patient attitudes and satisfactions,
social restoration and physicial disability and rehabilitation.11 Even the
face validity that outcomes generally have as criteria of success or failure,
is not absolute. One may debate, for example, whether the prolonga-
tion of life under certain circumstances is evidence of good medical

694 Avedis Donabedian

care. McDermott et al., have shown that, although fixing a congenitally
dislocated hip joint in a given position is considered good medicine for
the white man, it can prove crippling for the Navajo Indian who spends
much time seated on the floor or in the saddle.12 Finally, although out-
comes might indicate good or bad care in the aggregate, they do not give
an insight into the nature and location of the deficiencies or strengths
to which the outcome might be attributed.

All these limitations to the use of outcomes as criteria of medical
care are presented not to demonstrate that outcomes are inappropriate
indicators of quality but to emphasize that they must be used with
discrimination. Outcomes, by and large, remain the ultimate validators
of the effectiveness and quality of medical care.

Another approach to assessment is to examine the process of care itself
rather than its outcomes. This is justified by the assumption that one
is interested not in the power of medical technology to achieve results,
but in whether what is now known to be “good” medical care has been
applied. Judgments are based on considerations such as the appropri-
ateness, completeness and redundancy of information obtained through
clinical history, physical examination and diagnostic tests; justification
of diagnosis and therapy; technical competence in the performance of
diagnostic and therapeutic procedures, including surgery; evidence of
preventive management in health and illness; coordination and continu-
ity of care; acceptability of care to the recipient and so on. This approach
requires that a great deal of attention be given to specifying the relevant
dimensions, values and standards to be used in assessment. The esti-
mates of quality that one obtains are less stable and less final than those
that derive from the measurement of outcomes. They may, however, be
more relevant to the question at hand: whether medicine is properly

This discussion of process and outcome may seem to imply a simple
separation between means and ends. Perhaps more correctly, one may
think of an unbroken chain of antecedent means followed by intermediate
ends which are themselves the means to still further ends.13 Health itself
may be a means to a further objective. Several authors have pointed out
that this formulation provides a useful approach to evaluation.14,15 It
may be designated as the measurement of procedural end points and
included under the general heading of “process” because it rests on similar
considerations with respect to values, standards and validation.

A third approach to assessment is to study not the process of care itself,
but the settings in which it takes place and the instrumentalities of which

Evaluating the Quality of Medical Care 695

it is the product. This may be roughly designated as the assessment of
structure, although it may include administrative and related processes
that support and direct the provision of care. It is concerned with such
things as the adequacy of facilities and equipment; the qualifications of
medical staff and their organization; the administrative structure and op-
erations of programs and institutions providing care; fiscal organization
and the like.16,17 The assumption is made that given the proper settings
and instrumentalities, good medical care will follow. This approach of-
fers the advantage of dealing, at least in part, with fairly concrete and
accessible information. It has the major limitation that the relationship
between structure and process or structure and outcome, is often not well

Sources and Methods of Obtaining Information

The approach adopted for the appraisal of quality determines, in large
measure, the methods used for collecting the requisite information. Since
these range the gamut of social science methods, no attempt will be made
to describe them all. Four, however, deserve special attention.

Clinical records are the source documents for most studies of the medical
care process. In using them one must be aware of their several limita-
tions. Since the private office practice of most physicians is not readily
accessible to the researcher, and the records of such practice are gener-
ally disappointingly sketchy, the use of records has been restricted to
the assessment of care in hospitals, outpatient departments of hospitals
and prepaid group practice. Both Peterson18 and Clute19 have reported
the prevailing inadequacies of recording in general practice. In addition,
Clute has pointed out that, in general practice, “. . . the lack of adequate
records is not incompatible with practice of a good, or even an excellent
quality . . . .” On the other hand, a recent study of the office practice of a
sample of members of the New York Society of Internal Medicine20 sug-
gests that abstracts of office records can be used to obtain reproducible
judgments concerning the quality of care. But to generalize from this
finding is difficult. It concerns a particular group of physicians more
likely to keep good records than the average. Moreover, for one reason or
another, the original sample drawn for this study suffered a 61 per cent
attrition rate.

Assuming the record to be available and reasonably adequate, two
further issues to be settled are the veracity and the completeness of the
record. Lembcke10 has questioned whether key statements in the record

696 Avedis Donabedian

can be accepted at face value. He has questioned not only the statements
of the physician about the patient and his management, but also the
validity of the reports of diagnostic services. The first is verified by
seeking in the record, including the nurses’ notes, what appears to be
the most valid evidence of the true state of affairs. The second is verified
by having competent judges re-examine the evidence (films, tracings,
slides) upon which diagnostic reports are made. Observer error tends to
be a problem under the best of circumstances.21 But nothing can remove
the incredulity from the finding by Lembcke, in one hospital, that the
true incidence of uterine hyperplasia was between five and eight per
cent rather than 60 to 65 per cent of uterine curettages, as reported by
the hospital pathologist. In any case, the implications of verification as
part of the assessment of quality must be carefully considered. Errors
in diagnostic reports no doubt reflect particularly on the quality of
diagnostic service and on the care provided by the hospital, in general.
But the physician may be judged to perform well irrespective of whether
the data he works with are or are not valid. This is so when the object
of interest is the logic that governs the physician’s activities rather than
the absolute validity of these activities.

Much discussion has centered on the question of the completeness of
clinical records and whether, in assessing the quality of care based on what
appears in the record, one is rating the record or the care provided. What
confuses the issue is that recording is itself a separate and legitimate
dimension of the quality of practice, as well as the medium of infor-
mation for the evaluation of most other dimensions. These two aspects
can be separated when an alternative source of information about the
process of care is available, such as the direct observation of practice.18,19

In most instances, however, they are confounded. Rosenfeld22 handled
the problem of separating recording from care by examining the rea-
sons for downrating the quality of care in each patient record examined.
He demonstrated that the quality of care was rated down partly be-
cause of what could have been poor recording (“presumptive” evidence)
and partly for reasons that could not have been a matter of recording
(“substantial” evidence). He also found that hospitals tended to rank
high or low on both types of errors, showing that these errors were corre-
lated. Since routine recording is more likely to be complete in the wards,
comparison of ward and private services in each hospital by type of reason
for downrating might have provided further information on this impor-
tant question. Other investigators have tried to allow for incompleteness

Evaluating the Quality of Medical Care 697

in the record by supplementing it with interviews with the attend-
ing physician and making appropriate amendments.23−25 Unfortunately,
only one of these studies (length of stay in Michigan hospitals) contains
a report of what difference this additional step made. In this study “the
additional medical information elicited by means of personal interviews
with attending physicians was of sufficient importance in 12.6 per cent of
the total number of cases studied to warrant a reclassification of the eval-
uation of the necessity for admission and/or the appropriateness of length
of stay.”3,25 When information obtained by interview is used to amend
or supplement the patient record, the assumption may have to be made
that this additional information has equal or superior validity. More-
head, who has had extensive experience with this method, said, “Many
of the surveyors engaged in the present study employed the technique
of physician interview in earlier studies without fruitful results . . . . The
surveyor was . . . left in the uncomfortable position of having to choose
between taking at face value statements that medical care was indeed
optimal, or concluding that statements presented were untrue.”26 Even
in an earlier study, where supplementation by interview is reported to
have been used,24 verbal information was discarded unless it was further
corroborated by the course of action or by concrete evidence.27

Another question of method is whether the entire record or abstracted
digests of it should be used as a basis for evaluation. The question arises
because summaries and abstracts can presumably be prepared by less
skilled persons allowing the hard-to-get expert to concentrate on the
actual task of evaluation. Abstracting, however, seemingly involves the
exercise of judgment as to relevance and importance. For that reason, it
has been used as a first step in the evaluation of quality only in those
studies that use very specific and detailed standards.10 Even then, little
information is available about how reliable the process of abstracting is,
or how valid when compared with a more expert reading of the chart. The
study of New York internists, already referred to, demonstrated a high
level of agreement between physicians and highly trained non-physicians
abstracting the same office record.20

While the controversy about the record as a source of information
continues, some have attempted to reduce dependence on the physi-
cian’s recording habits by choosing for evaluation diagnostic categories
which are likely to be supported by recorded evidence additional to the
physician’s own entries.28 This explains, in part, the frequent use of
surgical operations as material for studies of quality.

698 Avedis Donabedian

In general practice, patient records are too inadequate to serve as a
basis for evaluation. The alternative is direct observation of the physician’s
activities by a well qualified colleague.18,19 The major limitation of
this method would seem to be the changes likely to occur in the usual
practice of the physician who knows he is being observed. This has
been countered by assurances that the physician is often unaware of the
true purpose of the study, becomes rapidly accustomed to the presence
of the observer, and is unable to change confirmed habits of practice.
Even if changes do occur, they would tend to result in an overestimate
of quality rather than the reverse. These assurances notwithstanding,
measuring the effect of observation on practice remains an unsolved

Those who have used the method of direct observation have been
aware that the problem of completeness is not obviated. The practic-
ing physician often knows a great deal about the patient from previous
contacts with him—hence the need to select for observation “new” cases
and situations that require a thorough examination irrespective of the
patient’s previous experience. Moreover, not all of the managing physi-
cian’s activities are explicit. Some dimensions of care, not subject to
direct observation, must be excluded from the scheme of assessment.
Selective perception by the observer may be an additional problem. The
observer is not likely to be first a neutral recorder of events and then
a judge of these same events. His knowledge and criteria are likely to
influence what he perceives, and thus to introduce a certain distortion
into perception.

An indirect method of obtaining information is to study behaviors
and opinions from which inferences may be drawn concerning quality. A
sociometric approach has been reported by Maloney et al., which assumes
that physicians, in seeking care for themselves and their families, exhibit
critical and valid judgments concerning the capacity of their colleagues to
provide care of high quality.29 Such choices were shown to identify classes
of physicians presumed to be more highly qualified than others. But both
sensitivity and specificity, using as a criterion more rigorous estimates of
the quality of care, lack validation. Georgopoulos and Mann30 used what
might be called an autoreputational31 approach in assessing the quality of
care in selected community hospitals. This grew out of previous studies
showing that people are pretty shrewd judges of the “effectiveness” of
the organizations in which they work.32 The hospitals were rated and
ranked using opinions concerning the quality of medical care, and other

Evaluating the Quality of Medical Care 699

characteristics, held by different categories of managerial, professional
and technical persons working in, or connected with, each hospital, as
well as by knowledgeable persons in the community. The responses were
sufficiently consistent and discriminating to permit the hospitals to be
ranked with an apparently satisfactory degree of reliability. This is in spite
of the generally self-congratulatory nature of the responses that classified
the quality of medical care in the hospitals as “very good,” “excellent,”
or “outstanding” in 89 per cent of cases, and “poor” in almost none. The
authors provide much evidence that the several opinions, severally held,
were intercorrelated to a high degree. But little evidence supports the
validity of the judgments by using truly external criteria of the quality
of care.

Sampling and Selection

The first issue in sampling is to specify precisely the universe to be sam-
pled, which, in turn, depends on the nature of the generalizations that
one wishes to make. Studies of quality are ordinarily concerned with one
of three objects: (1) the actual care provided by a specified category of
providers of care; (2) the actual care received by a specified group of peo-
ple and (3) the capacity of a specified group of providers to provide care.
In the first two instances representative samples of potential providers or
recipients are required, as well as representative samples of care provided
or received. In the third instance a representative sample of providers is
needed, but not necessarily a representative sample of care. A more im-
portant aspect is to select, uniformly of course, significant dimensions of
care. Perhaps performance should be studied in certain clinical situations
that are particularly stressful and therefore more revealing of latent ca-
pacities or weaknesses in performance. Hypothetical test situations may
even be set up to assess the capacity to perform in selected dimensions
of care.33−35 The distinctions made above, and especially those between
the assessment of actual care provided and of the capacity to provide
care, are useful in evaluating the sampling procedures used in the major
studies of quality. By these criteria, some studies belong in one category
or another, but some seem to combine features of several in such a way
that generalization becomes difficult. For example, in the first study of
the quality of care received by Teamster families, the findings are meant
to apply only to the management of specific categories of hospitalized

700 Avedis Donabedian

illness in a specified population group.28 In the second study of this
series, somewhat greater generalizability is achieved by obtaining a rep-
resentative sample (exclusive of seasonal variation) of all hospitalized
illness in the same population group.26 Neither study is meant to pro-
vide information about all the care provided by a representative sample
of physicians.

The degree of homogeneity in the universe to be sampled is, of course,
a matter of great importance in any scheme of sampling or selection.
The question that must be asked is to what extent the care provided by a
physician maintains a consistent level. Do specific diagnostic categories,
levels of difficulty or dimensions of care exist in which a physician per-
forms better than in others? Can one find, in fact, an “overall capacity
for goodness in medical care,”18 or is one dealing with a bundle of fairly
disparate strands of performance? One might, similarly, ask whether
the care provided by all subdivisions of an institution are at about the
same level in absolute terms or in relation to performance in comparable
institutions. Makover, for example, makes an explicit assumption of ho-
mogeneity when he writes, “No attempt was made to relate the number
of records to be studied to the size of enrollment of the medical groups.
The medical care provided to one or another individual is valid evi-
dence of quality and there should be little or no chance variation which
is affected by adjusting the size of the sample.”23 Rosenfeld began his
study with the hypothesis “that there is a correspondence in standards
of care in the several specialties and for various categories of illness in an

The empirical evidence concerning homogeneity is not extensive. Both
the Peterson and Clute studies of general practice18,19 showed a high de-
gree of correlation between performance of physicians in different com-
ponents or dimensions of care (history, physical examination, treatment,
etc.). Rosenfeld demonstrated that the differences in quality ratings
among several diagnoses selected within each area of practice (medicine,
surgery and obstetrics-gynecology) were not large. Although the dif-
ferences among hospitals by area of practice appeared by inspection to
be larger, they were not large enough to alter the rankings of the three
hospitals studied.

The two studies of care received by Teamster families26,28 arrived at
almost identical proportions of optimal and less than optimal care for the
entire populations studied. This must have been coincidental, since the
percent of optimal care, in the second study, varied greatly by diagnostic

Evaluating the Quality of Medical Care 701

category from 31 per cent for medicine to 100 per cent for ophthal-
mology (nine cases only). If such variability exists, the “diagnostic mix”
of the sample of care must be a matter of considerable importance in
assessment. In the two Teamster studies, differences in “diagnostic mix”
were thought to have resulted in lower ratings for medicine and higher
ratings for obstetrics-gynecology in the second study than in the first.
That the same factor may produce effects in two opposite directions is
an indication of the complex interactions that the researcher must con-
sider. “The most probable explanation for the ratings in medicine being
lower in the present (second) study is the nature of the cases reviewed.”
The factor responsible is less ability to handle illness “which did not
fall into a well recognized pattern.” For obstetrics and gynecology the
finding of the second study “. . . differed in one major respect from the
earlier study where serious questions were raised about the management
of far more patients. The earlier study consisted primarily of major ab-
dominal surgery, whereas this randomly selected group contained few
such cases and had more patients with minor conditions.”26 In studies
such as these, where the care received by total or partial populations
is under study, the variations noted stem partly from differences in di-
agnostic content and partly from institutionalized patterns of practice
associated with diagnostic content. For example, all nine cases of eye
disease received optimal care because “this is a highly specialized area,
where physicians not trained in this field rarely venture to perform

Sampling and selection influence, and are influenced by, a number
of considerations in addition to generalization and homogeneity. The
specific dimensions of care that interest one (preventive management
or surgical technique, to mention two rather different examples) may
dictate the selection of medical care situations for evaluation. The situ-
ations chosen are also related to the nature of the criteria and standards
used and of the rating and scoring system adopted. Attempts to sample
problem situations, rather than traditional diagnoses or operations, can
be very difficult, because of the manner in which clinical records are
filed and indexed. This is unfortunate, because a review of operations
or established diagnoses gives an insight into the bases upon which the
diagnosis was made or the operation performed. It leaves unexplored a
complementary segment of practice, namely the situations in which a
similar diagnosis or treatment may have been indicated but not made or

702 Avedis Donabedian

Measurement Standards

Measurement depends on the development of standards. In the assess-
ment of quality standards derive from two sources.

Empirical standards are derived from actual practice and are generally
used to compare medical care in one setting with that in another, or
with statistical averages and ranges obtained from a larger number of
similar settings. The Professional Activities Study is based, in part, on
this approach.36

Empirical standards rest on demonstrably attainable levels of care and,
for that reason, enjoy a certain degree of credibility and acceptability.
Moreover, without clear normative standards, empirical observations in
selected settings must be made to serve the purpose. An interesting ex-
ample is provided by Furstenberg et al., who used patterns of prescribing
in medical care clinics and outpatient hospitals as the standard to judge
private practice.37

In using empirical standards one needs some assurance that the clini-
cial material in the settings being compared is similar. The Professional
Activities Study makes some allowance for this by reporting patterns of
care for hospitals grouped by size. The major shortcoming, however, is
that care may appear to be adequate in comparison to that in other situa-
tions and yet fall short of what is attainable through the full application
of current medical knowledge.

Normative standards derive, in principle, from the sources that legit-
imately set the standards of knowledge and practice in the dominant
medical care system. In practice, they are set by standard textbooks or
publications,10 panels of physicians,25 highly qualified practitioners who
serve as judges26 or a research staff in consultation with qualified prac-
titioners.22 Normative standards can be put very high and represent the
“best” medical care that can be provided, or they can be set at a more
modest level signifying “acceptable” or “adequate” care. In any event,
their distinctive characteristic is that they stem from a body of legitimate
knowledge and values rather than from specific examples of actual prac-
tice. As such, they depend for their validity on the extent of agreement
concerning facts and values within the profession or, at least, among
its leadership. Where equally legitimate sources differ in their views,
judgments concerning quality become correspondingly ambiguous.

The relevance of certain normative standards, developed by one
group, to the field of practice of another group, has been questioned.

Evaluating the Quality of Medical Care 703

For example, Peterson and Barsamian report that although spermatic
fluid examination of the husband should precede surgery for the Stein-
Leventhal syndrome, not one instance of such examination was noted,
and that this requirement was dropped from the criteria for assessment.38

Dissatisfaction has also been voiced concerning the application to general
practice of standards and criteria elaborated by specialists who practice
in academic settings. The major studies of general practice have made
allowances for this. Little is known, however, about the strategies of
“good” general practice and the extent to which they are similar to, or
different from, the strategies of specialized practice in academic settings.

Some researchers have used both types of standards, normative and
empirical, in the assessment of care. Rosenfeld used normative standards
but included in his design a comparison between university affiliated and
community hospitals. “Use of the teaching hospital as a control provides
the element of flexibility needed to adjust to the constantly changing sci-
entific basis of the practice of medicine. No written standards, no matter
how carefully drawn, would be adequate in five years.”22 Lembcke used
experience in the best hospitals to derive a corrective factor that softens
the excessive rigidity of his normative standards. This factor, expressed
in terms of an acceptable percent of compliance with the standard, was
designed to take account of contingencies not foreseen in the standards
themselves. It does, however, have the effect of being more realistically
permissive as well. This is because the correction factor is likely to be
made up partly of acceptable departures from the norm and partly of
deviations that might be unacceptable.

Standards can also be differentiated by the extent of their specificity
and directiveness. At one extreme the assessing physician may be very
simply instructed as follows: “You will use as a yardstick in relation
to the quality of care rendered, whether you would have treated this
particular patient in this particular fashion during this specific hospital
admission.”26 At the other extreme, a virtually watertight “logic system”
may be constructed that specifies all the decision rules that are acceptable
to justify diagnosis and treatment.38,39 Most cases fall somewhere in

Highly precise and directive standards are associated with the selection
of specific diagnostic categories for assessment. When a representative
sample of all the care provided is to be assessed, little more than gen-
eral guides can be given to the assessor. Lembcke, who has stressed the
need for specific criteria, has had to develop a correspondingly detailed

704 Avedis Donabedian

diagnostic classification of pelvic surgery, for example.10 In addition to
diagnostic specificity, highly directive standards are associated with the
preselection of specific dimensions of care for evaluation. Certain diag-
noses, such as surgical operations, lend themselves more readily to this
approach. This is evident in Lembcke’s attempt to extend his system
of audits to nonsurgical diagnoses.40 The clear, almost rule-of-thumb
judgments of adequacy become blurred. The data abstracted under each
diagnostic rubric are more like descriptions of patterns of management,
with insufficient normative criteria for decisive evaluation. The alterna-
tive adopted is comparison with a criterion institution.

Obviously, the more general and nondirective the standards are, the
more one must depend on the interpretations and norms of the person
entrusted with the actual assessment of care. With greater specificity,
the research team is able, collectively, to exercise much greater control
over what dimensions of care require emphasis and what the acceptable
standards are. A great deal appears in common between the standards
used in structured and unstructured situations as shown by the degree of
agreement between “intuitive” ratings and directed ratings in the Rosen-
feld study,22 and between the “qualitative” and “quantitative” ratings in
the study by Peterson et al.18 Indeed, these last two were so similar that
they could be used interchangeably.

When standards are not very specific and the assessor must exer-
cise his own judgment in arriving at an evaluation, very expert and
careful judges must be used. Lembcke claims that a much more pre-
cise and directive system such as his does not require expert judges.
“It is said that with a cookbook, anyone who can read can cook. The
same is true, and to about the same extent, of the medical audit using
objective criteria; anyone who knows enough medical terminology to
understand the definitions and criteria can prepare the case abstracts
and tables for the medical audit. However, the final acceptance, inter-
pretation and application of the findings must be the responsibility
of a physician or group of physicians.”41 The “logic system” devel-
oped by Peterson and Barsamian appears well suited for rating by com-
puter, once the basic facts have been assembled, presumably by a record

The dimensions of care and the values that one uses to judge them are,
of course, embodied in the criteria and standards used to assess care.42

These standards can, therefore, be differentiated by their selectivity and
inclusiveness in the choice of dimensions to be assessed. The dimensions

Evaluating the Quality of Medical Care 705

selected and the value judgments attached to them constitute the oper-
ationalized definition of quality in each study.

The preselection of dimensions makes possible, as already pointed out,
the development of precise procedures, standards and criteria. Lembcke10

has put much stress on the need for selecting a few specific dimensions of
care within specified diagnostic categories rather than attempting gen-
eral evaluations of unspecified dimensions which, he feels, lack precision.
He uses dimensions such as the following: confirmation of clinical di-
agnosis, justification of treatment (including surgery) and completeness
of the surgical procedure. Within each dimension, and for each diagnos-
tic category, one or more previously defined activities are often used to
characterize performance for that dimension as a whole. Examples are the
compatibility of the diagnosis of pancreatitis with serum amylase levels
or of liver cirrhosis with biopsy findings, the performance of sensitivity
tests prior to antibiotic therapy in acute bronchitis, and the control of
blood sugar levels in diabetes.

In addition to the extent to which preselection of dimensions takes
place, assessments of quality differ with respect to the number of di-
mensions used and the exhaustiveness with which performance in each
dimension is explored. For example, Peterson et al.,18 and Rosenfeld22

use a large number of dimensions. Peterson and Barsamian,38,39 on the
other hand, concentrate on two basic dimensions, justification of diag-
nosis and of therapy, but require complete proof of justification. A much
more simplified approach is illustrated by Huntley et al.,43 who evalu-
ate outpatient care using two criteria only: the percent of work-ups not
including certain routine procedures, and the percent of abnormalities
found that were not followed up.

Judgments of quality are incomplete when only a few dimensions are
used and decisions about each dimension are made on the basis of partial
evidence. Some dimensions, such as preventive care or the psychological
and social management of health and illness, are often excluded from the
definition of quality and the standards and criteria that make it opera-
tional. Examples are the intentional exclusion of psychiatric care from
the Peterson study18 and the planned exclusion of the patient-physician
relationship and the attitudes of physicians in studies of the quality of
care in the Health Insurance Plan of Greater New York.27 Rosenfeld22

made a special point of including the performance of specified screening
measures among the criteria of superior care; but care was labeled good
in the absence of these measures. In the absence of specific instructions

706 Avedis Donabedian

to the judges, the study by Morehead et al.,26 includes histories of cases,
considered to have received optimal care, in which failure of preventive
management could have resulted in serious consequences to the patient.

Another characteristic of measurement is the level at which the stan-
dard is set. Standards can be so strict that none can comply with them,
or so permissive that all are rated “good.” For example, in the study
of general practice reported by Clute,19 blood pressure examinations,
measurement of body temperature, otoscopy and performance of immu-
nizations did not serve to categorize physicians because all physicians
performed them well.

Measurement Scales

The ability to discriminate different levels of performance depends on the
scale of measurement used. Many studies of quality use a small number
of divisions to classify care, seen as a whole, into categories such as
“excellent,” “good,” “fair” or “poor.” A person’s relative position in a set
can then be further specified by computing the percent of cases in each
scale category. Other studies assign scores to performance of specified
components of care and cumulate these to obtain a numerical index
usually ranging from 0–100. These practices raise questions relative to
scales of measurement and legitimate operations on these scales. Some
of these are described below.

Those who adhere to the first practice point out that any greater
degree of precision is not possible with present methods. Some have even
reduced the categories to only two: optimal and less than optimal. Clute19

uses three, of which the middle one is acknowledged to be doubtful
or indeterminate. Also, medical care has an all-or-none aspect that the
usual numerical scores do not reflect. Care can be good in many of its
parts and be disastrously inadequate in the aggregate due to a vital
error in one component. This is, of course, less often a problem if it is
demonstrated that performance on different components of care is highly

Those who have used numerical scores have pointed out much loss
of information in the use of overall judgments,38 and that numerical
scores, cumulated from specified subscores, give a picture not only of
the whole but also of the evaluation of individual parts. Rosenfeld22 has
handled this problem by using a system of assigning qualitative scores
to component parts of care and an overall qualitative score based on

Evaluating the Quality of Medical Care 707

arbitrary rules of combination that allow for the all-or-none attribute
of the quality of medical care. As already pointed out, a high degree of
agreement was found between intuitive and structured ratings in the
Rosenfeld study22 and between qualitative and quantitative ratings in
the study by Peterson et al.18

A major problem, yet unsolved, in the construction of numerical
scores, is the manner in which the different components are to be
weighted in the process of arriving at the total. At present this is an
arbitrary matter. Peterson et al.,18 for example, arrive at the following
scale: clinical history 30, physical examination 34, use of laboratory aids
26, therapy 9, preventive medicine 6, clinical records 2, total 107. Daily
and Morehead24 assign different weights as follows: records 30, diagnos-
tic work-up 40, treatment and follow-up 30, total 100. Peterson et al.,
say: “Greatest importance is attached to the process of arriving at a diag-
nosis since, without a diagnosis, therapy cannot be rational. Furthermore,
therapy is in the process of constant change, while the form of history and
physical examination has changed very little over the years.”18 Daily and
Morehead offer no justification for their weightings, but equally persua-
sive arguments could probably be made on their behalf. The problem of
seeking external confirmation remains.44

The problem of weights is related to the more general problem of
value of items of information or of procedures in the medical care pro-
cess. Rimoldi et al.,34 used the frequency with which specified items of
information were used in the solution of a test problem as a measure of
the value of that item. Williamson had experts classify specified proce-
dures, in a specified diagnostic test setting, on a scale ranging from “very
helpful” to “very harmful.” Individual performance in the test was then
rated using quantitative indices of “efficiency,” “proficiency” and overall
“competence,” depending on the frequency and nature of the procedures

A problem in the interpretation of numerical scores is the meaning
of the numerical interval between points on the scale. Numerical scores
derived for the assessment of quality are not likely to have the property
of equal intervals. They should not be used as if they had.


The reliability of assessments is a major consideration in studies of qual-
ity, where so much depends on judgment even when the directive types

708 Avedis Donabedian

of standards are used. Several studies have given some attention to agree-
ment between judges. The impression gained is that this is considered
to be at an acceptable level. Peterson et al.,18 on the basis of 14 observer
revisits, judged agreement to be sufficiently high to permit all the ob-
servations to be pooled together after adjustment for observer bias in one
of the six major divisions of care. In the study by Daily and Morehead,
“several cross-checks were made between the two interviewing internists
by having them interview the same physicians. The differences in the
scores of the family physicians based on these separate ratings did not
exceed 7 per cent.”24 Rosenfeld22 paid considerable attention to testing
reliability, and devised mathematical indices of “agreement” and “dis-
persion” to measure it. These indicate a fair amount of agreement, but
a precise evaluation is difficult since no other investigator is known to
have used these same measures. Morehead et al.,26 in the second study
of medical care received by Teamster families, report initial agreement
between two judges in assigning care to one of two classes in 78 per
cent of cases. This was raised to 92 per cent following reevaluation of
disagreements by the two judges.

By contrast to between-judge reliability, very little has been reported
about the reliability of repeated judgments of quality made by the same
person. To test within-observer variation, Peterson et al.,18 asked each of
two observers to revisit four of his own previously visited physicians. The
level of agreement was lower within observers than between observers,
partly because revisits lasted a shorter period of time and related, there-
fore, to a smaller sample of practice.

The major mechanism for achieving higher levels of reliability is the
detailed specification of criteria, standards and procedures used for the
assessment of care. Striving for reproducibility was, in fact, a major
impetus in the development of the more rigorous rating systems by
Lembcke, and by Peterson and Barsarmian. Unfortunately, no compara-
tive studies of reliability exist using highly directive versus nondirective
methods of assessment. Rosenfeld’s raw data might permit a comparison
of reliability of “intuitive” judgments and the reliability of structured
judgments by the same two assessors. Unreported data by Morehead
et al.,26 could be analyzed in the same way as those of Rosenfeld22 to
give useful information about the relationship between degree of relia-
bility and method of assessment. The partial data that have been pub-
lished suggest that the post-review reliability achieved by Morehead et
al., using the most non-directive of approaches, is quite comparable

Evaluating the Quality of Medical Care 709

with that achieved by Rosenfeld who used a much more directive

Morehead et al., raised the important question of whether the reliabil-
ity obtained through the detailed specification of standards and criteria
may not be gained at the cost of reduced validity. “Frequently, such cri-
teria force into a rigid framework similar actions or factors which may
not be appropriate in a given situation due to the infinite variations in
the reaction of the human body to illness . . . The study group rejects
the assumption that such criteria are necessary to evaluate the quality of
medical care. It is their unanimous opinion that it is as important for
the surveyors to have flexibility in the judgment of an individual case as
it is for a competent physician when confronting a clinical problem in a
given patient.”26

The reasons for disagreement between judges throw some light on the
problems of evaluation and the prospects of achieving greater reliability.
Rosenfeld found that “almost half the differences were attributable to
situations not covered adequately by standards, or in which the stan-
dards were ambiguous. In another quarter differences developed around
questions of fact, because one consultant missed a significant item of
information in the record. It would therefore appear that with revised
standards, and improved methods of orienting consultants, a substan-
tially higher degree of agreement could be achieved.”22 Less than a quar-
ter of the disagreements contain differences of opinion with regard to
the requirements of management. This is a function of ambiguity in the
medical care system and sets an upper limit of reproducibility. Morehead
et al., report that in about half the cases of initial disagreement “there
was agreement on the most serious aspect of the patient’s care, but one
surveyor later agreed that he had not taken into account corollary as-
pects of patient care.”26 Other reasons for disagreement were difficulty
in adhering to the rating categories or failure to note all the facts. Of the
small number of unresolved disagreements (eight per cent of all admis-
sions and 36 per cent of initial disagreements) more than half were due
to honest differences of opinion regarding the clinical handling of the
problem. The remainder arose out of differences in interpreting inade-
quate records, or the technical problems of where to assess unsatisfactory
care in a series of admissions.27

A final aspect of reliability is the occasional breakdown in the perfor-
mance of an assessor, as so dramatically demonstrated in the Rosenfeld
study.22 The question of what the investigator does when a well defined

710 Avedis Donabedian

segment of his results are so completely aberrant will be raised here
without any attempt to provide an answer.


When several observers or judges describe and evaluate the process of
medical care, one of them may consistently employ more rigid stan-
dards than another, or interpret predetermined standards more strictly.
Peterson et al.,18 discovered that one of their observers generally awarded
higher ratings than the other in the assessment of performance of physical
examination, but not in the other areas of care. Rosenfeld22 showed that,
of two assessors, one regularly awarded lower ratings to the same cases
assessed by both. An examination of individual cases of disagreement in
the study by Morehead et al.,26 reveals that, in the medical category, the
same assessor rated the care at a lower level in 11 out of 12 instances of
disagreement. For surgical cases, one surveyor rated the care lower than
the other in all eight instances of disagreement. The impression is gained
from examining reasons for disagreement on medical cases that one of
the judges had a special interest in cardiology and was more demanding
of clarity and certainty in the management of cardiac cases.

The clear indication of these findings is that bias must be accepted
as the rule rather than the exception, and that studies of quality must
be designed with this in mind. In the Rosenfeld study,22 for example,
either of the two raters used for each area of practice would have ranked
the several hospitals in the same order, even though one was consistently
more generous than the other. The Clute study of general practice in
Canada,19 on the other hand, has been criticized for comparing the quality
of care in two geographic areas even though different observers examined
the care in the two areas in question.45 The author was aware of this
problem and devised methods for comparing the performance of the
observers in the two geographic areas, but the basic weakness remains.

Predetermined order or regularity in the process of study may be
associated with bias. Therefore, some carefully planned procedures may
have to be introduced into the research design for randomization. The
study by Peterson et al.,18 appears to be one of the few to have paid
attention to this factor. Another important source of bias is knowledge,
by the assessor, of the identity of the physician who provided the care
or of the hospital in which care was given. The question of removing
identifying features from charts under review has been raised,3 but little

Evaluating the Quality of Medical Care 711

is known about the feasibility of this procedure and its effects on the
ratings assigned. Still another type of bias may result from parochial
standards and criteria of practice that may develop in and around certain
institutions or “schools” of medical practice. To the extent that this is
true, or suspected to be true, appropriate precautions need to be taken
in the recruitment and allocation of judges.


The effectiveness of care as has been stated, in achieving or producing
health and satisfaction, as defined for its individual members by a par-
ticular society or subculture, is the ultimate validator of the quality of
care. The validity of all other phenomena as indicators of quality de-
pends, ultimately, on the relationship between these phenomena and the
achievement of health and satisfaction. Nevertheless, conformity of prac-
tice to accepted standards has a kind of conditional or interim validity
which may be more relevant to the purposes of assessment in specific

The validation of the details of medical practice by their effect on
health is the particular concern of the clinical sciences. In the clinical
literature one seeks data on whether penicillin promotes recovery in
certain types of pneumonia, anticoagulants in coronary thrombosis, or
corticosteroids in rheumatic carditis; what certain tests indicate about
the function of the liver; and whether simple or radical mastectomy is
the more life-prolonging procedure in given types of breast cancer. From
the general body of knowledge concerning such relationships arise the
standards of practice, more or less fully validated, by which the medical
care process is ordinarily judged.

Intermediate, or procedural, end points often represent larger bundles
of care. Their relationship to outcome has attracted the attention of both
the clinical investigator and the student of medical care organization.
Some examples of the latter are studies of relationships between prenatal
care and the health of mothers and infants46,47 and the relationship be-
tween multiple screening examinations and subsequent health.48 An in-
teresting example of the study of the relationship between one procedural
end point and another is the attempt to demonstrate a positive relation-
ship between the performance of rectal and vaginal examinations by the
physician, and the pathological confirmation of appendicitis in primary
appendectomies, as reported by the Professional Activities Study.49

712 Avedis Donabedian

Many studies reviewed18,19,23,26,28 attempt to study the relationship
between structural properties and the assessment of the process of care.
Several of these studies have shown, for example, a relationship between
the training and qualifications of physicians and the quality of care they
provide. The relationship is, however, a complex one, and is influenced
by the type of training, its duration and the type of hospital within
which it was obtained. The two studies of general practice18,19 have
shown additional positive relationships between quality and better office
facilities for practice, the presence or availabilty of laboratory equipment,
and the institution of an appointment system. No relationship was shown
between quality and membership of professional associations, the income
of the physician or the presence of x-ray equipment in the office. The
two studies do not agree fully on the nature of the relationship between
quality of practice and whether the physician obtained his training in a
teaching hospital or not, the number of hours worked or the nature of
the physician’s hospital affiliation. Hospital accreditation, presumably
a mark of quality conferred mainly for compliance with a wide range of
organizational standards, does not appear, in and of itself, to be related
to the quality of care, at least in New York City.26

Although structure and process are no doubt related, the few exam-
ples cited above indicate clearly the complexity and ambiguity of these
relationships. This is the result partly of the many factors involved, and
partly of the poorly understood interactions among these factors. For
example, one could reasonably propose, based on several findings26,38

that both hospital factors and physician factors influence the quality of
care rendered in the hospital, but that differences between physicians
are obliterated in the best and worst hospital and express themselves, in
varying degrees, in hospitals of intermediate quality.

An approach particularly favored by students of medical care organiza-
tion is to examine the relations between structure and outcome without
reference to the complex processes that tie them together. Some exam-
ples of such studies have been cited already.6−9 Others include studies of
the effects of reorganizing the outpatient clinic on health status,50 the
effects of intensive hospital care on recovery,51 the effects of home care
on survival52 and the effect of a rehabilitation program on the physical
status of nursing home patients.53,54 The lack of relationship to outcome
in the latter two studies suggests that current opinions about how care
should be set up are sometimes less than well established.

Evaluating the Quality of Medical Care 713

This brief review indicates the kinds of evidence pertaining to the
validity of the various approaches to the evaluation of quality of care.
Clearly, the relationships between process and outcome, and between
structure and both process and outcome, are not fully understood. With
regard to this, the requirements of validation are best expressed by the
concept, already referred to, of a chain of events in which each event is
an end to the one that comes before it and a necessary condition to the
one that follows. This indicates that the means-end relationship between
each adjacent pair requires validation in any chain of hypothetical or real
events.55 This is, of course, a laborious process. More commonly, as has
been shown, the intervening links are ignored. The result is that causal
inferences become attenuated in proportion to the distance separating
the two events on the chain.

Unfortunately, very little information is available on actual assess-
ments of quality using more than one method of evaluation concurrently.
Makover has studied specifically the relationships between multifactorial
assessments of structure and of process in the same medical groups. “It
was found that the medical groups that achieved higher quality ratings
by the method used in this study were those that, in general, adhered
more closely to HIP’s Minimum Medical Standards. However, the ex-
ceptions were sufficiently marked, both in number and degree, to induce
one to question the reliability56 of one or the other rating method when
applied to any one medical group. It would seem that further comparison
of these two methods of rating is clearly indicated.”23

Indices of Medical Care

Since a multidimensional assessment of medical care is a costly and labo-
rious undertaking, the search continues for discrete, readily measurable
data that can provide information about the quality of medical care. The
data used may be about aspects of structure, process or outcome. The
chief requirement is that they be easily, sometimes routinely, measur-
able and be reasonably valid. Among the studies of quality using this
approach are those of the Professional Activities Study,36 Ciocco et al.,57

and Furstenberg et al.37

Such indices have the advantage of convenience; but the inferences that
are drawn from them may be of doubtful validity. Myers has pointed out

714 Avedis Donabedian

the many limitations of the traditional indices of the quality of hospital
care, including rates of total and postoperative mortality, complications,
postoperative infection, Caesarian section, consultation and removal of
normal tissue at operation.58 The accuracy and completeness of the ba-
sic information may be open to question. More important still, serious
questions may be raised about what each index means since so many
factors are involved in producing the phenomenon which it measures.
Eislee has pointed out, on the other hand, that at least certain indices
can be helpful, if used with care.36

The search for easy ways to measure a highly complex phenomenon
such as medical care may be pursuing a will-o’-the-wisp. The use of
simple indices in lieu of more complex measures may be justified by
demonstrating high correlations among them.1 But, in the absence of
demonstrated causal links, this may be an unsure foundation upon which
to build. On the other hand, each index can be a measure of a dimension or
ingredient of care. Judiciously selected multiple indices may, therefore,
constitute the equivalent of borings in a geological survey which yield
sufficient information about the parts to permit reconstruction of the
whole. The validity of inferences about the whole will depend, of course,
on the extent of internal continuities in the individual or institutional
practice of medicine.

Some Problems of Assessing Ambulatory Care

Some of the special difficulties in assessing the quality of ambulatory
care have already been mentioned. These include the paucity of recorded
information, and the prior knowledge, by the managing physician, of the
patient’s medical and social history. The first of these problems has led
to the use of trained observers and the second to the observation of cases
for which prior knowledge is not a factor in current management. The
degree of relevance to general practice of standards and strategies of care
developed by hospital centered and academically oriented physicians has
also been questioned.

Another problem is the difficulty of defining the segment of care
that may be properly the object of evaluation in ambulatory care. For
hospital care, a single admission is usually the appropriate unit.59 In
office or clinic practice, a sequence of care may cover an indeterminate
number of visits so that the identification of the appropriate unit is open
to question. Usually the answer has been to choose an arbitrary time

Evaluating the Quality of Medical Care 715

period to define the relevant episode of care. Ciocco et al.,57 defined
this as the first visit plus 14 days of follow-up. Huntley et al.,43 use a
four-week period after the initial work-up.

Conclusions and Proposals

This review has attempted to give an impression of the various approaches
and methods that have been used for evaluating the quality of medical
care, and to point out certain issues and problems that these approaches
and methods bring up for consideration.

The methods used may easily be said to have been of doubtful value
and more frequently lacking in rigor and precision. But how precise do
estimates of quality have to be? At least the better methods have been
adequate for the administrative and social policy purposes that have
brought them into being. The search for perfection should not blind one
to the fact that present techniques of evaluating quality, crude as they
are, have revealed a range of quality from outstanding to deplorable.
Tools are now available for making broad judgments of this kind with
considerable assurance. This degree of assurance is supported by findings,
already referred to, that suggest acceptable levels of homogeneity in
individual practice and of reproducibility of qualitative judgments based
on a minimally structured approach to evaluation. This is not to say that
a great deal does not remain to be accomplished in developing the greater
precision necessary for certain other purposes.

One might begin a catalogue of needed refinements by considering
the nature of the information which is the basis for judgments of quality.
More must be known about the effect of the observer on the practice
being observed, as well as about the process of observation itself—its
reliability and validity. Comparisons need to be made between direct
observation and recorded information both with and without supple-
mentation by interview with the managing physician. Recording agree-
ment or disagreement is not sufficient. More detailed study is needed of
the nature of, and reasons for, discrepancy in various settings. Similarly,
using abstracts of records needs to be tested against using the records

The process of evaluation itself requires much further study. A great
deal of effort goes into the development of criteria and standards which
are presumed to lend stability and uniformity to judgments of quality;

716 Avedis Donabedian

and yet this presumed effect has not been empirically demonstrated.
How far explicit standardization must go before appreciable gains in
reliability are realized is not known. One must also consider whether,
with increasing standardization, so much loss of the ability to account for
unforeseen elements in the clinical situation occurs that one obtains reli-
ability at the cost of validity. Assessments of the same set of records using
progressively more structured standards and criteria should yield valu-
able information on these points. The contention that less well trained
assessors using exhaustive criteria can come up with reliable and valid
judgments can also be tested in this way.

Attention has already been drawn, in the body of the review, to the
little that is known about reliability and bias when two or more judges
are compared, and about the reliability of repeated judgments of the
same items of care by the same assessor. Similarly, very little is known
about the effects on reliability and validity, of certain characteristics
of judges including experience, areas of special interest and personality
factors. Much may be learned concerning these and related matters by
making explicit the process of judging and subjecting it to careful study.
This should reveal the dimensions and values used by the various judges
and show how differences are resolved when two or more judges discuss
their points of view. Some doubt now exists about the validity of group
reconciliations in which one point of view may dominate, not necessarily
because it is more valid.1 The effect of masking the identity of the
hospital or the physician providing care can be studied in the same
way. What is proposed here is not only to demonstrate differences or
similarities in overall judgments, but to attempt, by making explicit
the thought processes of the judges, to determine how the differences
and similarities arise, and how differences are resolved.

In addition to defects in method, most studies of quality suffer from
having adopted too narrow a definition of quality. In general, they con-
cern themselves with the technical management of illness and pay little
attention to prevention, rehabilitation, coordination and continuity of
care, or handling the patient-physician relationship. Presumably, the
reason for this is that the technical requirements of management are
more widely recognized and better standardized. Therefore, more com-
plete conceptual and empirical exploration of the definition of quality
is needed.

What is meant by “conceptual exploration” may be illustrated by
considering the dimension of efficiency which is often ignored in studies

Evaluating the Quality of Medical Care 717

of quality. Two types of efficiency might be distinguished: logical and
economic. Logical efficiency concerns the use of information to arrive
at decisions. Here the issue might be whether the information obtained
by the physician is relevant or irrelevant to the clinical business to be
transacted. If relevant, one might consider the degree of replication or
duplication in information obtained and the extent to which it exceeds
the requirements of decision making in a given situation. If parsimony
is a value in medical care, the identification of redundancy becomes an
element in the evaluation of care.

Economic efficiency deals with the relationships between inputs and
outputs and asks whether a given output is produced at least cost. It
is, of course, influenced by logical efficiency, since the accumulation of
unnecessary or unused information is a costly procedure which yields
no benefit. Typically it goes beyond the individual and is concerned
with the social product of medical care effort. It considers the possibility
that the “best” medical care for the individual may not be the “best”
for the community. Peterson et al., cite an example that epitomizes the
issue. “Two physicians had delegated supervision of routine prenatal
visits to office nurses, and the doctor saw the patient only if she had
specific complaints.”18 In one sense, this may have been less than the
best care for each expectant mother. In another sense, it may have been
brilliant strategy in terms of making available to the largest number of
women the combined skills of a medical care team. Cordero, in a thought
provoking paper, has documented the thesis that, when resources are
limited, optimal medical care for the community may require less than
“the best” care for its individual members.60

In addition to conceptual exploration of the meaning of quality, in
terms of dimensions of care and the values attached to them, empirical
studies are needed of what are the prevailing dimensions and values in
relevant population groups.5 Little is known, for example, about how
physicians define quality, nor is the relationship known between the
physician’s practice and his own definition of quality. This is an area of
research significant to medical education as well as quality. Empirical
studies of the medical care process should also contribute greatly to
the identification of dimensions and values to be incorporated into the
definition of quality.

A review of the studies of quality shows a certain discouraging repeti-
tiousness in basic concepts, approaches and methods. Further substantive
progress, beyond refinements in methodology, is likely to come from a

718 Avedis Donabedian

program of research in the medical care process itself rather than from
frontal attacks on the problem of quality. This is believed to be so because,
before one can make judgments about quality, one needs to understand
how patients and physicians interact and how physicians function in the
process of providing care. Once the elements of process and their inter-
relationships are understood, one can attach value judgments to them in
terms of their contributions to intermediate and ultimate goals. Assume,
for example, that authoritarianism-permissiveness is one dimension of
the patient-physician relationship. An empirical study may show that
physicians are in fact differentiated by this attribute. One might then
ask whether authoritarianism or permissiveness should be the criterion
of quality. The answer could be derived from the general values of so-
ciety that may endorse one or the other as the more desirable attribute
in social interactions. This is one form of quality judgment, and is per-
fectly valid, provided its rationale and bases are explicit. The study of the
medical care process itself may however offer an alternative, and more
pragmatic, approach. Assume, for the time being, that compliance with
the recommendations of the physician is a goal and value in the medical
care system. The value of authoritarianism or permissiveness can be de-
termined, in part, by its contribution to compliance. Compliance is itself
subject to validation by the higher order criterion of health outcomes.
The true state of affairs is likely to be more complex than the hypothetical
example given. The criterion of quality may prove to be congruence with
patient expectations, or a more complex adaptation to specific clinical
and social situations, rather than authoritarianism or permissiveness as a
predominant mode. Also, certain goals in the medical care process may
not be compatible with other goals, and one may not speak of quality
in global terms but of quality in specified dimensions and for specified
purposes. Assessments of quality will not, therefore, result in a summary
judgment but in a complex profile, as Sheps has suggested.1

A large portion of research in the medical care process will, of course,
deal with the manner in which physicians gather clinically relevant in-
formation, and arrive at diagnostic and therapeutic decisions. This is not
the place to present a conceptual framework for research in this portion
of the medical care process. Certain specific studies may, however, be
mentioned and some directions for further research indicated.

Research on information gathering includes studies of the perception
and interpretation of physical signs.61,62 Evans and Bybee have shown, for
example, that in interpreting heart sounds errors of perception (of rhythm

Evaluating the Quality of Medical Care 719

and timing) occurred along with additional errors of interpretation of
what was perceived. Faulty diagnosis, as judged by comparison with a
criterion, was the result of these two errors.62 This points to the need for
including, in estimates of quality, information about the reliability and
validity of the sensory data upon which management, in part, rests.

The work of Peterson and Barsamian38,39 represents the nearest ap-
proach to a rigorous evaluation of diagnostic and therapeutic decision
making. As such, it is possibly the most significant recent advance in
the methods of quality assessment. But this method is based on record
reviews and is almost exclusively preoccupied with the justification of
diagnosis and therapy. As a result, many important dimensions of care
are not included in the evaluation. Some of these are considerations of
efficiency, and of styles and strategies in problem solving.

Styles and strategies in problem solving can be studied through actual
observation of practice, as was done so effectively by Peterson et al., in
their study of general practice.18 A great deal that remains unobserved
can be made explicit by asking the physician to say aloud what he is
doing and why. This method of réflexion parlée has been used in studies of
problem solving even though it may, in itself, alter behavior.63 Another
approach is to set up test situations, such as those used by Rimoldi
et al.,34 and by Williamson,35 to observe the decision making process.
Although such test situations have certain limitations arising out of their
artificiality,64 the greater simplicity and control that they provide can
be very helpful.

At first sight, the student of medical care might expect to be helped
by knowledge and skill developed in the general field of research in
problem solving. Unfortunately, no well developed theoretical base is
available which can be exploited readily in studies of medical care. Some
of the empirical studies in problem solving might however, suggest
methods and ideas applicable to medical care situations.63−67 Some of the
studies of “troubleshooting” in electronic equipment, in particular, show
intriguing similarities to the process of medical diagnosis and treatment.
These and similar studies have identified behavioral characteristics that
might be used to categorize styles in clinical management. They include
the amount of information collected, rate of seeking information, value
of items of information sought as modified by their place in a sequence
and by interaction with other items of information, several types of
redundancy, stereotypy, search patterns in relation to the part known to
be defective, tendencies to act prior to amassing sufficient information

720 Avedis Donabedian

or to seek information beyond the point of reasonable assurance about the
solution, “error distance” and degrees of success in achieving a solution,
and so on.

Decision making theory may also offer conceptual tools of research
in the medical care process. Ledley and Lusted,68,69 among others, have
attempted to apply models based on conditional probabilities to the
process of diagnosis and therapy. Peterson and Barsamian38,39 decided
against using probabilities in their logic systems for the very good reason
that the necessary data (the independent probabilities of diseases and
of symptoms, and the probabilities of specified symptoms in specified
diseases) were not available. But Edwards et al.,70 point out that one
can still test efficiency in decision making by substituting subjective
probabilities (those of the decision maker himself or of selected experts)
for the statistical data one would prefer to have.

A basic question that has arisen frequently in this review is the degree
to which performance in medical care is a homogeneous or heterogeneous
phenomenon. This was seen, for example, to be relevant to sampling,
the use of indices in place of multidimensional measurements, and the
construction of scales that purport to judge total performance. When
this question is raised with respect to individual physicians, the object of
study is the integration of various kinds of knowledge and of skills in the
personality and behavior of the physician. When it is raised with respect
to institutions and social systems the factors are completely different.
Here one is concerned with the formal and informal mechanisms for
organizing, influencing and directing human effort in general, and the
practice of medicine in particular. Research in all these areas is expected
to contribute to greater sophistication in the measurement of quality.

Some of the conventions accepted in this review are, in themselves, ob-
stacles to more meaningful study of quality. Physicians’ services are not,
in the real world, separated from the services of other health professionals,
nor from the services of a variety of supportive personnel. The separation
of hospital and ambulatory care is also largely artificial. The units of care
which are the proper objects of study include the contributions of many
persons during a sequence which may include care in a variety of set-
tings. The manner in which these sequences are defined and identified
has implications for sampling, methods of obtaining information, and
standards and criteria of evaluation.

A final comment concerns the frame of mind with which stud-
ies of quality are approached. The social imperatives that give rise to

Evaluating the Quality of Medical Care 721

assessments of quality have already been referred to. Often associated
with these are the zeal and values of the social reformer. Greater neutral-
ity and detachment are needed in studies of quality. More often one needs
to ask, “What goes on here?” rather than, “What is wrong; and how can
it be made better?” This does not mean that the researcher disowns his
own values or social objectives. It does mean, however, that the distinc-
tion between values, and elements of structure, process or outcome, is
recognized and maintained; and that both are subjected to equally crit-
ical study. Partly to achieve this kind of orientation emphasis must be
shifted from preoccupation with evaluating quality to concentration on
understanding the medical care process itself.


1. Sheps, M.C. September, 1955. Approaches to the Quality of Hospi-
tal Care. Public Health Reports 70:877–886.

This paper represents an unusually successful crystallization of
thinking concerning the evaluation of quality. It contains brief but
remarkably complete discussions of the purposes of evaluation, prob-
lems of definition, criteria and standards, various approaches to mea-
surement, the reliability of qualitative judgments and indices of
quality. The bibliography is excellent.

2. Peterson, L. December 5, 1963. Evaluation of the Quality of Medical
Care. New England Journal of Medicine 269:1238–1245.

3. Lerner, M., and D.C. Riedel. January, 1964. The Teamster Study
and the Quality of Medical Care. Inquiry 1:69–80.

The major value of this paper is that it raises questions concerning
methods of assessment including the sampling of populations and
diagnostic categories, the use of records and the need for supple-
mentation by interview, the value of detailed standards, the need for
understanding the auditing process, the definition of terms and con-
cepts (of “unnecessary admission,” for example), and the problems
of defining the relevant episode of care.

4. Lee, R.I., and L.W. Jones. 1933. The Fundamentals of Good Medical
Care. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

5. Klein, M.W., et al. Summer, 1961. Problems of Measuring Patient
Care in the Out Patient Department. Journal of Health and Human
Behavior 2:138–144.

6. Kohl, S.G. 1955. Perinatal Mortality in New York City: Responsible
Factors. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

This study, sponsored by the New York Academy of Medicine,
was an examination by an expert committee of records pertaining
to a representative sample of perinatal deaths in New York City.

722 Avedis Donabedian

Preventable deaths were recognized and “responsibility factors”
identified, including errors in medical judgment and technique.
The incidence of both of these was further related to type of hospital
service, type of professional service and type of hospital, indicating
relationships between structure and outcome as modified by the
characteristics of the population served.

7. Shapiro, S., et al. September, 1960. Further Observations on Prema-
turity and Perinatal Mortality in a General Population and in the
Population of a Prepaid Group Practice Medical Care Plan. American
Journal of Public Health 50:1304–1317.

8. Lipworth, L., J.A.H. Lee, and J.N. Morris. April–June, 1963. Case
Fatality in Teaching and Nonteaching Hospitals, 1956–1959. Med-
ical Care 1:71–76.

9. Rice, C.E., et al. May, 1961. Measuring Social Restoration Perfor-
mance of Public Psychiatric Hospitals. Public Health Reports 76:437–

10. Lembcke, P.A. October 13, 1956. Medical Auditing by Scientific
Methods. Journal of the American Medical Association 162:646–655.
(Appendices A and B supplied by the author.)

This is perhaps the single best paper that describes the underlying
concepts as well as the methods of the highly structured approach
developed by Lembcke to audit hospital records. Also included is
an example of the remarkable effect that an “external audit” of this
kind can have on surgical practice in a hospital.

11. Kelman, H.R., and A. Willner. April, 1962. Problems in Measure-
ment and Evaluation of Rehabilitation. Archives of Physical Medicine
and Rehabilitation 43:172–181.

12. McDermott, W., et al. January 22 and 29, 1960. Introducing Mod-
ern Medicine in a Navajo Community. Science 131:197–205 and

13. Simon, H.A. 1961. Administrative Behavior, 62–66. New York: The
Macmillan Company.

14. Hutchinson, G.B. May, 1960. Evaluation of Preventive Services.
Journal of Chronic Diseases 11:497–508.

15. James, G. 1960. Evaluation of Public Health, 7–17. Report of the
Second National Conference on Evaluation in Public Health. Ann
Arbor: The University of Michigan, School of Public Health.

16. Weinerman, E.R. September, 1950. Appraisal of Medical Care Pro-
grams. American Journal of Public Health 40:1129–1134.

17. Goldmann, F., and E.A. Graham. 1954. The Quality of Medical Care
Provided at the Labor Health Institute, St. Louis, Missouri. St. Louis:
The Labor Health Institute.

This is a good example of an approach to evaluation based on
structural characteristics. In this instance, these included the layout
and equipment of physical facilities, the competence and stability
of medical staff, provisions made for continuity of service centering

Evaluating the Quality of Medical Care 723

around a family physician, the scheduling and duration of clinic
visits, the content of the initial examination, the degree of emphasis
on preventive medicine and the adequacy of the medical records.

18. Peterson, O.L., et al. December, 1956. An Analytical Study of North
Carolina General Practice: 1953–1954. The Journal of Medical Edu-
cation 31:1–165, Part 2.

Already a classic, this study is distinguished by more than ordi-
nary attention to methods and rather exhaustive exploration of the
relationship between quality ratings and characteristics of physi-
cians, including education training and methods of practice. The
findings of this study, and others that have used the same method,
raise basic questions about traditional general practice in this and
other countries

19. Clute, K.F. 1963. The General Practitioner: A Study of Medical Edu-
cation and Practice in Ontario and Nova Scotia. Toronto: University of
Toronto Press, chapters 1, 2, 16, 17 and 18.

Since this study uses the method developed by Peterson, et al.,
it offers an excellent opportunity to examine the generality of rela-
tionships between physician characteristics and quality ratings. In
addition, the reader of this elegantly written volume gets a richly
detailed view of general practice in the two areas studied.

20. Kroeger, H.H., et al. August 2, 1965. The Office Practice of In-
ternists, I. The Feasibility of Evaluating Quality of Care. The Journal
of the American Medical Association 193:371–376.

This is the first of a series of papers based on a study of the practice
of members of the New York Society of Internal Medicine. This pa-
per reports findings concerning the completeness of office records,
their suitability for judging quality and the degree of agreement
between abstracts of records prepared by physicians and by highly
trained non-physicians. Judgments concerning the quality of care
provided are not given. Other papers in this series currently appear-
ing in the Journal of the American Medical Association concern patient
load (August 23), characteristics of patients (September 13), profes-
sional activities other than care of private patients (October 11), and
background and form of practice (November 1).

21. Kilpatrick, G.S. January, 1963. Observer Error in Medicine. Jour-
nal of Medical Education 38:38–43. For a useful bibliography on ob-
server error see Witts, L.J. (Editor), Medical Surveys and Clinical Trials,
London, Oxford University Press, 1959, pp. 39–44.

22. Rosenfeld, L.S. July, 1957. Quality of Medical Care in Hospitals.
American Journal of Public Health 47:856–865.

This carefully designed comparative study of the quality of care
in four hospitals addresses itself to the problems of methods in the
assessment of quality. Here one finds important information about
the use of normative and empirical standards, reliability and bias in
judgments based on chart review, the correlation between defects in

724 Avedis Donabedian

recording and defects in practice and homogeneity in quality ratings
within and between diagnostic categories.

23. Makover, H.B. July, 1951. The Quality of Medical Care: Method-
ological Survey of the Medical Groups Associated with the Health
Insurance Plan of New York. American Journal of Public Health

This is possibly the first published report concerning an admin-
istratively instituted, but research oriented, program of studies of
the quality of care in medical groups contracting with the Health
Insurance Plan of Greater New York. Unfortunately much of this
work remains unpublished. A particular feature of this paper is that
it describes, and presents the findings of simultaneous evaluation of
structure (policies, organization, administration, finances and pro-
fessional activities) and process (evaluation of a sample of clinical

24. Daily, E.F., and M.A. Morehead, July, 1956. A Method of Evaluating
and Improving the Quality of Medical Care. American Journal of Public
Health 46:848–854.

25. Fitzpatrick, T.B., D.C. Riedel, and B.C. Payne. 1962. Character
and Effectiveness of Hospital Use in Hospital and Medical Economics,
edited by W.J. Mc Nerney, et al., 495–509. Chicago: Hospital Re-
search and Educational Trust, American Hospital Association.

26. Morehead, M.A., et al. 1964. A Study of the Quality of Hospital Care
Secured by a Sample of Teamster Family Members in New York City. New
York: Columbia University, School of Public Health and Adminis-
trative Medicine.

This study and its companion28 perform a very important social
and administrative function by documenting how frequently the
care received by members of a union through traditional sources
proves to be inadequate. These studies also make a major contribu-
tion to understanding the relationships between hospital and physi-
cian characteristics and the quality of care they provide. Considered
are physician classifications by specialty status and admission privi-
leges, as well as hospital classifications by ownership, medical school
affiliation, approval for residency training and accreditation status.
The interactional effects of some of these variables are also explored.
In addition, the second of the two studies pays considerable attention
to questions of method, including representative versus judgmental
sampling of hospital admissions and the reliability of record evalu-
ations by different judges.

27. Morehead, M.A., Personal communication.
28. Ehrlich, J., M.A. Morehead, and R.E. Trussell. 1962. The Quantity,

Quality and Costs of Medical and Hospital Care Secured by a Sample of
Teamster Families in the New York Area. New York: Columbia Uni-
versity, School of Public Health and Administrative Medicine.

Evaluating the Quality of Medical Care 725

29. Maloney, M.C., R.E. Trussell, and J. Elinson. November, 1960.
Physicians Choose Medical Care: A Sociometric Approach to Qual-
ity Appraisal. American Journal of Public Health 50:1678–1686.

This study represents an ingenious approach to evaluation
through the use of “peer judgments” in what is believed to be a
particularly revealing situation: choice of care for the physician or
members of his own family. Some of the characteristics of the physi-
cians and surgeons selected included long-standing personal and
professional relationships, recognized specialist status, and medical
school affiliation. An incidental pearl of information is that although
nine out of ten physicians said everyone should have a personal physi-
cian, four out of ten said they had someone whom they considered
their personal physician, and only two out of ten had seen their
personal physician in the past year!

30. Georgopoulos, B.S., and F.C. Mann. 1962. The Community General
Hospital. New York: The Macmillan Company.

The study of quality reported in several chapters of this book is
based on the thesis that if one wishes to find out about the quality
of care provided, all one might need to do is to ask the persons di-
rectly or indirectly involved in the provision of such care. Although
physicians may find this notion rather naive, the stability and inter-
nal consistency of the findings reported in this study indicate that
this approach deserves further careful evaluation. A second study of
a nationwide sample of general hospitals will attempt to confirm
the validity of respondent opinions by comparing them to selected
indices of professional activities in each hospital. The findings will
be awaited with great interest.

31. One of the author’s students, Mr. Arnold D. Kaluzny, helped the
author to coin this word.

32. Georgopoulos, B.S., and A.S. Tannenbaum. October, 1957. A Study
of Organizational Effectiveness. American Sociological Review 22:534–

33. Evans, L.R., and J.R. Bybee. February, 1965. Evaluation of Student
Skills in Physical Diagnosis. Journal of Medical Education 40:199–

34. Rimoldi, H.J.A., J.V. Haley, and H. Fogliatto. 1962. The Test of Di-
agnostic Skills. Loyola Psychometric Laboratory Publication Number
25. Chicago: Loyola University Press.

This study is of interest because it uses a controlled test situation
to study the performance of medical students and physicians. Even
more intriguing is the attempt to approach the question of the value
or utility of diagnostic actions in a systematic and rigorous manner.
While this particular study does not appear to contribute greatly to
understanding the quality of care, this general approach appears to
be worth pursuing.

726 Avedis Donabedian

35. Williamson, J.W. February, 1965. Assessing Clinical Judgment.
Journal of Medical Education 40:180–187.

This is another example of the assessment of clinical performance
using an artificial test situation. The noteworthy aspect of the work
is the attachment of certain values (“helpful” or “harmful”) to a
set of diagnostic and therapeutic actions and the development of
measures of “efficiency,” “proficiency” and “competence” based on
which actions are selected by the subject in managing the test case.
Differences of performance between individual physicians were de-
tected using this method. An unexpected finding was the absence of
systematic differences by age, training or type of practice in groups
tested so far.

36. Eislee, C.W., V.N. Slee, and R.G. Hoffmann. January, 1956. Can
the Practice of Internal Medicine Be Evaluated? Annals of Internal
Medicine 44:144–161.

The authors discuss the use of indices from which inferences
might be drawn concerning the quality of surgical and medical man-
agement. The indices described include tissue pathology reports in
appendectomies, diabetes patients without blood sugar determina-
tions and without chest x-rays, and pneumonia without chest x-rays.
A striking finding reported in this paper, and others based on the
same approach, is the tremendous variation by physician and hospital
in the occurrence of such indices of “professional activity.”

37. Furstenberg, F.F., et al. October, 1953. Prescribing as an Index to
Quality of Medical Care: A Study of the Baltimore City Medical
Care Program. American Journal of Public Health 43:1299–1309.

38. Peterson, O.L., and E.M. Barsamian. October 7–11, 1963. An Ap-
plication of Logic to a Study of Quality of Surgical Care. Paper read
at the Fifth IBM Medical Symposium, Endicott, New York.

This paper and its companion39 present a fairly complete de-
scription of the “logic tree” approach to the evaluation of quality.
Examples are given of the logic systems for the Stein-Leventhal Syn-
drome and uterine fibromyoma. No data are given on empirical
findings using this method.

39. Peterson, O.L., and E.M. Barsamian. April, 1964. Diagnostic Per-
formance. In The Diagnostic Process, edited by J.A. Jacquez, 347–362.
Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press.

40. Lembcke, P.A., and O.G. Johnson. 1963. A Medical Audit Report.
Los Angeles: University of California, School of Public Health

This is an extension of Lembcke’s method of medical audit to
medical diagnostic categories as well as a large number of surgi-
cal operations. Although this volume is a compendium of fairly
raw data, careful study can provide insights and limitations of the
method used by the author.

Evaluating the Quality of Medical Care 727

41. Lembcke, P.A. 1959. A Scientific Method for Medical Auditing.
Hospitals 33:65–71, June 16 and 65–72, July 1.

42. The dimensionality of the set of variables incorporating these stan-
dards remains to be determined.

43. Huntley, R.R., et al., December, 1961. The Quality of Medical Care:
Techniques and Investigation in the Outpatient Clinic. Journal of
Chronic Diseases 14:630–642.

This study provides an example of the application of a routine
chart review procedure as a check on the quality of management in
the outpatient department of a teaching hospital. Fairly often routine
procedures were not carried out and abnormalities that were found
were not followed up. A revised chart review procedure seemed to
make a significant reduction in the percent of abnormalities not
followed up.

44. Peterson, et al., loc. cit., attempted to get some confirmation of
weightings through the procedure of factor analysis. The mathe-
matically sophisticated are referred to their footnote on pp. 14–15.

45. Mainland, D., August 24, 1964. Calibration of the Human Instru-
ment. Notes from a Laboratory of Medical Statistics, Number 81

46. Joint Committee of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecol-
ogists and the Population Investigation Committee. 1948. Maternity
in Great Britain. London: Oxford University Press.

47. Yankauer, A., K.G. Goss, and S.M. Romeo. August, 1953. An Eval-
uation of Prenatal Care and Its Relationship to Social Class and
Social Disorganization. American Journal of Public Health 43:1001–

48. Wylie, C.M. July, 1961. Participation in a Multiple Screening Clinic
with Five-Year Follow-Up. Public Health Reports 76:596–602.

49. Commission on Professional and Hospital Activities. October, 1957.
Medical Audit Study Report 5: Primary Appendectomies. Ann Arbor: The
Commission on Professional and Hospital Activities.

50. Simon, A.J. September, 1959. Social Structure of Clinics and Patient
Improvement. Administrative Science Quarterly 4:197–206.

51. Lockward, H.J., G.A.F. Lundberg, and M.E. Odoroff. August, 1963.
Effect of Intensive Care on Mortality Rate of Patients with Myocar-
dial Infarcts. Public Health Reports 78:655–661.

52. Bakst, J.N., and E.F. Marra. April, 1955. Experiences with Home
Care for Cardiac Patients. American Journal of Public Health 45:444–

53. Muller, J.N., J.S. Tobis, and H.R. Kelman. February, 1963. The Re-
habilitation Potential of Nursing Home Residents. American Journal
of Public Health 53:243–247.

54. These studies also include data on the relationships between struc-
tural features and procedural end points. Examples are the effect of

728 Avedis Donabedian

clinic structure on the number of outpatient visits,50 and the effect
of a home care program on hospital admissions.52

55. Getting, V.A., et al., October 5, 1964. Research in Evaluation in
Public Health Practices. Paper presented at the 92nd Annual Meet-
ing, American Public Health Association, New York.

56. Assuming the direct evaluation of process to be the criterion, the
issue becomes one of the implications of reliability measures for

57. Ciocco, A., H. Hunt, and I. Altman. January 27, 1950. Statistics on
Clinical Services to New Patients in Medical Groups. Public Health
Reports 65:99–115.

This is an early application to group practice of the analysis of
“professional activities” now generally associated with the evaluation
of hospital care. The indices used included the recording of diagnosis
and treatment, the performance of rectal and vaginal examinations,
the performance of certain laboratory examinations and the use of
sedatives, stimulants and other medications subject to abuse. As is
true of hospitals, the groups varied a great deal with respect to these

58. Myers, R.S. July, 1954. Hospital Statistics Don’t Tell the Truth.
Modern Hospital 83:53–54.

59. Even for hospital care the appropriate unit may include care before
and after admission, as well as several hospital admissions.3

60. Cordero, A.L. April–June, 1964. The Determination of Medical
Care Needs in Relation to a Concept of Minimal Adequate Care: An
Evaluation of the Curative Outpatient Services in a Rural Health
Center. Medical Care 2:95–103.

61. Butterworth, J.S., and E.H. Reppert, September 3, 1960. Auscul-
tatory Acumen in the General Medical Population. Journal of the
American Medical Association 174:32–34.

62. Evans, L.R., and J.R. Bybee. February, 1965. Evaluation of Student
Skills in Physical Diagnosis. Journal of Medical Education 40:199–

63. Fattu, N.C., February, 1964. Experimental Studies of Problem Solv-
ing. Journal of Medical Education 39:212–225.

64. John, E.R. 1957. Contributions to the Study of the Problem Solving
Process, Psychological Monographs 71.

65. Duncan, C.P., November, 1959. Recent Research in Human Prob-
lem Solving. Psychological Bulletin 56:397–429.

66. Fattu, N.A., E. Mech, and E. Kapos. 1954. Some Statistical Relation-
ships between Selected Response Dimensions and Problem-Solving
Proficiency. Psychological Monographs 68.

67. Stolurow, L.M., et al., Winter, 1955. The Efficient Course of Action
in “Trouble Shooting” as a Joint Function of Probability and Cost.
Educational and Psychological Measurement 15:462–477.

Evaluating the Quality of Medical Care 729

68. Ledley, R.S., and L.B. Lusted. July 3, 1959. Reasoning Foundations
of Medical Diagnosis. Science 130:9–21.

69. Lusted, L.B., and W.R. Stahl. 1964. Conceptual Models of Diagno-
sis. In The Diagnostic Process, edited by J.A. Jacquez, 157–174. Ann
Arbor: The University of Michigan Press.

70. Edwards, W., H. Lindman, and L.D. Phillips. 1965. Emerging Tech-
nologies for Making Decisions. In New Directions in Psychology, II,
edited by T.M. Newcomb, 261–325. New York: Holt, Rinchart &
Winston, Inc.

Acknowledgments: Included among the reviewed authors who read the
manuscript and made corrections or comments are Georgopoulos, Makover,
Morehead, Peterson, Riedel, Rosenstock, Rosenfeld, Sheps and Weinerman.
The author is especially indebted to Dr. Mildred A. Morehead and to professors
Basil S. Georgopoulos, Herbert E. Klarman and Charles A. Metzner for taking
time to make extensive comments. The official critics, Mr. Sam Shapiro and Dr.
Jonas N. Muller, were helpful in sharpening some of the issues in the assessment
of quality. Since the author was unable to use all the excellent advice he received,
he alone is responsible for defects in this paper.

This review has been supported, in part, by Grant CH-00108 from the
Division of Community Health Services, United States Public Health Service.

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