Health services research related to performance indicators and benchmarking in Europe
Objective: Measuring quality of care through performance indicators and subsequently using these to compare, learn, and improve (benchmarking) has become a central component of health care policy. This paper aims to identify the main themes of health services research in this area and focuses on opportunities for improving the evidence underpinning performance indicators. Methods: A literature survey was carried out to identify research activities and main research themes in Europe in the years 2000-09. Identified literature was categorized into sub-topics and for each topic the main methodological issues were identified and discussed. Experts validated the findings and explored the potential for related further European research. Results: The distribution of research on performance and benchmarking across EU member states varies in time, scope and settings with a large amount of studies focusing on hospitals. Eight specific fields of research were identified (research on concepts and performance frameworks; performance indicators and benchmarking using mortality data; performance indicators and benchmarking related to cancer care; performance indicators and benchmarking on care delivered in hospitals; patient safety indicators; performance indicators in primary care; patient experience; research on the practice of benchmarking and performance improvement). Expert discussions confirmed that research on performance indicators and benchmarking should focus on the development of indicators, as well as their use. The research should involve the potential users and incorporate scientific approaches from biomedicine and epidemiology as well as the social sciences. Further progress is hampered by data availability. Issues which need to be addressed include the use of unique patient identifiers (UPIs) to facilitate linkages between separate databases; standardized measurement of the experiences of patients and others; and deepening collaboration between Eurostat, the World Health Organization (WHO), and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to facilitate the availability of internationally comparable performance information. Conclusions: This study suggests a number of themes for future research. These include testing and improving: the validity and reliability of performance indicators, especially related to avoidable mortality and other outcome indicators; the effectiveness and efficiency of embedding performance indicators in the various governance, monitoring and management models, and their effect on health systems, services and professionals; and the effectiveness and efficiency of linking performance indicators to other national and international strategies and policies such as accreditation and certification, practice guidelines, audits, quality systems, patient safety strategies, national standards on volume and/or quality, public reporting, pay-for-performance and patient/consumer involvement. The field would benefit from strengthening the clearinghouse function for research findings, training of researchers and appropriate scientific publication media. Results should be systematically shared with policy-makers and managers, and networking stimulated between the growing number of regional and national institutes involved in quality measurement and reporting.