Jun 13, 2007
Published in: New England Journal of Medicine, v. 356, no. 24, June 14, 2007, p. 2496-2504
BACKGROUND: There is emerging concern that the methods used to measure the quality of care unfairly penalize providers caring for patients with multiple chronic conditions. The authors therefore sought to study the relationship between the quality of care and the number of medical conditions a patient has. METHODS: The authors assessed measurements of the quality of medical care received in three cohorts of community-dwelling adult patients in the Community Quality Index study, the Assessing Care of Vulnerable Elders study, and the Veterans Health Administration project (7680 patients in total). They analyzed the relationship between the quality of care that patients received, defined as the percentage of quality indicators satisfied among those for which patients were eligible, and the number of chronic medical conditions each patient had. The authors further explored the roles of characteristics of patients, use of health care (number of office visits and hospitalizations), and care provided by specialists as explanations for the observed relationship. RESULTS: The quality of care increased as the number of medical conditions increased. Each additional condition was associated with an increase in the quality score of 2.2% (95% confidence interval [CI], 1.7 to 2.7) in the Community Quality Index cohort, of 1.7% (95% CI, 1.1 to 2.4) in the Assessing Care of Vulnerable Elders cohort, and of 1.7% (95% CI, 0.7 to 2.8) in the Veterans Health Administration cohort. The relationship between the quality of care and the number of conditions was little affected by adjustment for the difficulty of delivering the care recommended in a quality indicator and for the fact that, because of multiple conditions requiring the same care, a patient could be eligible to receive the same care process more than once. Adjustment for characteristics of patients, use of health care, and care provided by specialists diminished the relationship, but it remained positive. CONCLUSIONS: The quality of care, measured according to whether patients were offered recommended services, increases as a patient's number of chronic conditions increases.