AHRQ: Healthcare quality improving, but disparities still exist

Improvements in healthcare quality inched up nationwide with a median change of 2.3 percent in 2010, but quality and access for minority and low-income groups remained "suboptimal" at the same time, according to two new reports released Monday by the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ).

The reports, which are mandated by Congress, found that progress tended to be uneven with respect to several national priority areas. Two areas--palliative and end-of-life care and patient and family engagement--appeared to be improving. However, three areas--population health, safety, and access--were lagging.

On average, Americans reported barriers to care about a fifth of the time--ranging from 3 percent of people reporting they were unable to receive or had delays in getting prescription medications to 60 percent of people saying their usual providers did not have office hours on weekends or nights.

Some gains in healthcare quality were seen in several areas, with the highest rates of improvement in measures linked to treatments for acute illnesses or injuries. But, only small gains were seen in rates related to screening for preventive services and child and adult immunizations.

Measures related to lifestyle changes--such as prevention or reduction of obesity, smoking cessation and substance abuse--had little improvement.

Healthcare disparities related to race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status still remained evident, as well. Overall, blacks, American Indians and Alaska Natives received worse care than whites for about 40 percent of core measures evaluated by the reports.

For more details:
- see the AHRQ release
- download the reports