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US Improving in Health Care Quality, But Still Lagging Behind Other Countries, New Analysis Finds

A new brief on the Peterson-Kaiser Health System Tracker finds that the quality of the U.S. health system is improving in many areas, but comparable countries continue to outperform the United States on key measures.

Analysts from the Kaiser Family Foundation compiled an overall picture of health care quality in the United States, using the best available data from numerous sources on health outcomes, quality of care, and access to services.

The brief, Measuring the Quality of Healthcare in the U.S., also discusses why existing indicators are imperfect, and outlines the challenges of establishing meaningful national quality measures that can reliably show how the system is influencing the health of Americans.  The brief explains that  we have good data on how much we are spending on health care in the United States, but know much less about what outcomes we are getting in return for that spending, and how much those outcomes are influenced by the health care system itself.

Findings based on existing quality indicators include:

  • The U.S. health system has improved on a wide variety of quality measures, including mortality amenable to health care; the number of hospital-acquired infections; and the percentage of children receiving all recommended doses of vaccines.
  • The United States has worsened on other measures, including health-related quality of life (self-reported healthy days and days in which activities were interrupted by poor health).
  • The United States outperforms countries of comparable wealth on some measures, including wait times for specialist visits and hospital admission rates for uncontrolled diabetes.
  • But, on a large number of measures, comparable countries outperform the United States, including life expectancy at birth; cost-related barriers to health care access; the prevalence of retained surgical items or unretrieved device fragments; and burden of disease, which takes into account years of life lost due to premature death and years of life lost to poor health or disability.

Two chart collections accompany the brief.

How has the quality of the US healthcare system changed over time? provides a detailed look at statistics and trends in the U.S. system in 26 slides.

How does the quality of the US healthcare system compare to other countries? offers updated data on the U.S. system in relation to numerous other countries.

All three resources are available on the Peterson-Kaiser Health System Tracker.

The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation Headquarters: 2400 Sand Hill Road, Menlo Park, CA 94025 | Phone 650-854-9400
Washington Offices and Barbara Jordan Conference Center: 1330 G Street, NW, Washington, DC 20005 | Phone 202-347-5270

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Filling the need for trusted information on national health issues, the Kaiser Family Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Menlo Park, California.