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Int J Qual Health Care. 2003 Dec;15(6):523-30.

Defining and classifying clinical indicators for quality improvement.

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The National Indicator Project and University of Aarhus, Denmark.



This paper provides a brief review of definitions, characteristics, and categories of clinical indicators for quality improvement in health care.


Clinical indicators assess particular health structures, processes, and outcomes. They can be rate- or mean-based, providing a quantitative basis for quality improvement, or sentinel, identifying incidents of care that trigger further investigation. They can assess aspects of the structure, process, or outcome of health care. Furthermore, indicators can be generic measures that are relevant for most patients or disease-specific, expressing the quality of care for patients with specific diagnoses.


Monitoring health care quality is impossible without the use of clinical indicators. They create the basis for quality improvement and prioritization in the health care system. To ensure that reliable and valid clinical indicators are used, they must be designed, defined, and implemented with scientific rigour.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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