Quality’s a team game

Dr Subashini M, Associate Medical Director, Aviva UK Health

Whether purchasing a product or service, the assurance of quality is paramount. None more so than with medical treatment. But what does quality really mean? And, how do you measure it?

For some it's brand. In the medical sense this could be the perception that the best specialists and facilities are London-based. Harley Street is a prime example, but it’s just a postcode.

Another measure could be the volume of procedures the specialist has undertaken. While there's a lot to be said for experience, does quantity really represent quality?

Medicine is moving at such a pace that a specialist using the latest technology may have carried out fewer  procedures but delivered far better outcomes for their patients. For example, interventional cardiology has now superseded previous techniques such as open-heart surgery.
Yet, cardiologists who have practised for many years and not updated their practice may not be able to provide this new service. And, some conditions can now see better outcomes from noninvasive interventions, such as the use of physiotherapy to treat back pain.

Measuring on volume alone could prove unreliable in this situation. Moreover, assessing quality on the amount of procedures an individual has undertaken could drive unethical behaviours by enticing them to perform unnecessary treatments.
Clinical outcomes and experience are arguably more robust measures of quality. But, does the success of procedure really depend on one person? The simple answer is no. The health ecosystem is intrinsically linked. Patient outcomes can be influenced by factors outside a specialist’s control. Drugs need to be administered, dressings changed, and the right rehabilitation programme followed.

That's why, when we talk about quality health provision, we take a broader view of the complete customer journey, from the point of claim all the way through to the completion of our customers’ clinical treatment. This approach gives us a better understanding of the value our propositions bring to our customers’ lives.

Providers registered with the Care Quality Commission (CQC) have a duty to ‘assess the risks to people's health and safety during any care or treatment and make sure that staff have the qualifications, competence, skills and experience to keep people safe. 

In simplistic terms, this means that a hospital isn't just ‘bricks and mortar’. Its staff all have a role to play in improving the quality of patient care - be it protecting against infection or working together to deliver the best outcomes in and out of theatre.

This ethos underpins the new draft Medical Practitioners Assurance Framework developed by the Independent Healthcare Providers’ Network (IHPN). The Framework will enable hospital providers to strengthen their assurance processes to support patient care through the clinical governance of medical practice.