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BMJ Qual Saf. 2018 Jan;27(1):21-30. doi: 10.1136/bmjqs-2017-006607. Epub 2017 Aug 28.

Variation and statistical reliability of publicly reported primary care diagnostic activity indicators for cancer: a cross-sectional ecological study of routine data.

Author information

1
Primary Care, University of Exeter, Exeter, UK.
2
Cambridge Centre for Health Services Research, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK.
3
Knowledge and Intelligence Team (East Midlands), Public Health England, Sheffield, UK.
4
National Cancer Registration and Analysis Service, Public Health England, London, UK.
5
Epidemiology of Cancer Healthcare and Outcomes (ECHO) Group, Department of Behavioural Science and Health, University College London, London, UK.

Abstract

OBJECTIVES:

Recent public reporting initiatives in England highlight general practice variation in indicators of diagnostic activity related to cancer. We aimed to quantify the size and sources of variation and the reliability of practice-level estimates of such indicators, to better inform how this information is interpreted and used for quality improvement purposes.

DESIGN:

Ecological cross-sectional study.

SETTING:

English primary care.

PARTICIPANTS:

All general practices in England with at least 1000 patients.

MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES:

Sixteen diagnostic activity indicators from the Cancer Services Public Health Profiles.

RESULTS:

Mixed-effects logistic and Poisson regression showed that substantial proportions of the observed variance in practice scores reflected chance, variably so for different indicators (between 7% and 85%). However, after accounting for the role of chance, there remained substantial variation between practices (typically up to twofold variation between the 75th and 25th centiles of practice scores, and up to fourfold variation between the 90th and 10th centiles). The age and sex profile of practice populations explained some of this variation, by different amounts across indicators. Generally, the reliability of diagnostic process indicators relating to broader populations of patients most of whom do not have cancer (eg, rate of endoscopic investigations, or urgent referrals for suspected cancer (also known as 'two week wait referrals')) was high (≥0.80) or very high (≥0.90). In contrast, the reliability of diagnostic outcome indicators relating to incident cancer cases (eg, per cent of all cancer cases detected after an emergency presentation) ranged from 0.24 to 0.54, which is well below recommended thresholds (≥0.70).

CONCLUSIONS:

Use of indicators of diagnostic activity in individual general practices should principally focus on process indicators which have adequate or high reliability and not outcome indicators which are unreliable at practice level.

KEYWORDS:

health policy; performance measures; primary care; quality measurement

PMID:
28847789
PMCID:
PMC5750427
DOI:
10.1136/bmjqs-2017-006607
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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