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Keywords:

  • Benchmarking/methods;
  • quality indicators;
  • health care;
  • quality of health care;
  • cross-national comparative study;
  • clinical vignettes

Objective. To determine whether clinical vignettes can measure variations in the quality of clinical care in two economically divergent countries.

Data Source/Study Setting. Primary data collected between February 1997 and February 1998 at two Veterans Affairs facilities in the United States and four government-run outpatient facilities in Macedonia.

Study Design. Randomly selected, eligible Macedonian and U.S. physicians (>97 percent participation rate) completed vignettes for four common outpatient conditions. Responses were judged against a master list of explicit quality criteria and scored as percent correct.

Data Collection/ Extraction. An ANOVA model and two-tailed t-tests were used to compare overall scores by case, study site, and country.

Principal Findings. The mean score for U.S. physicians was 67 percent (+/−11 percent) compared to 48 percent (+/−11 percent) for Macedonian physicians. The quality of clinical practice, which emphasizes basic skills, varied greatly in both sites, but more so in Macedonia. However, the top Macedonian physicians in all sites approached or—in one case—exceeded the median score in the U.S. sites.

Conclusions. Vignettes are a useful method for making cross-national comparisons of the quality of care provided in very different settings. The vignette measurements revealed that some physicians in Macedonia performed at a standard comparable to that of their counterparts in the United States, despite the disparity of the two health systems. We infer that in poorer countries, policy that promotes improvements in the quality of clinical practice—not just structural inputs—could lead to rapid improvements in health.