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Pediatrics. 2001 Jan;107(1):143-55.

A report card on quality improvement for children's health care.

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  • 1Institute for Health Policy, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.



Improving the quality of health care is a national priority. Nonetheless, no systematic effort has assessed the status of quality improvement (QI) initiatives for children or reviewed past research in child health care QI. This assessment is necessary to establish priorities for QI programs and research.


To assess the status of QI initiatives and research, we reviewed the literature and interviewed experts experienced in QI for child health services. We defined QI as activities intended to close the gap between desired processes and outcomes of care and what is actually delivered. We classified reports published between 1985 and 1997 by publication characteristics, study design, clinical problem addressed, site of intervention, the QI method(s) used, and explicit association with a continuous quality improvement program.


We reviewed 68 reports meeting our definition of QI. More than half (48) were published after 1994. The reviewed reports included controlled evaluations in 36% of all identified interventions, and 3% of the reports were associated with continuous quality improvement. QI methods demonstrating some effectiveness included reminder systems for office-based preventive services and inpatient pathways for complex care. Reportedly successful QI initiatives more commonly described improvement in administrative measures such as rate of hospitalization or length of stay rather than functional status or quality of life. Interviews found that barriers to QI for children were similar to those for adults, but were compounded by difficulties in measuring child health outcomes, limited resources among public organizations and small provider groups, and relative lack of competition for pediatric tertiary care providers. Research and dissemination of QI for children were seen as less well developed than for adults.


Attempts to improve the quality of child health services have been increasing, and the evidence we reviewed suggests that it is possible to improve the quality of care for children. Nonetheless, numerous gaps remain in the understanding of QI for children, and widespread improvement in the quality of health services for children faces significant barriers.

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