Defining quality of care persuasively

Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics 33 (4):243-261 (2012)

Maya J. Goldenberg
University of Guelph
As the quality movement in health care now enters its fourth decade, the language of quality is ubiquitous. Practitioners, organizations, and government agencies alike vociferously testify their commitments to quality and accept numerous forms of governance aimed at improving quality of care. Remarkably, the powerful phrase ‘‘quality of care’’ is rarely defined in the health care literature. Instead it operates as an accepted and assumed goal worth pursuing. The status of evidence-based medicine, for instance, hinges on its ability to improve quality of care, and efforts are made by both proponents and detractors to unpack the contents and outcomes of evidence-based practice while the contents of ‘‘quality of care’’ are presumed to be understood. Because the goals of medicine are far from obvious, this paper investigates the neglected term, ‘‘quality of care,’’ in an effort to understand what it is that health care practices are so uncritically assumed to be striving for. Finding lack of consensus on the terminology in the quality literature, I propose that the term operates rhetorically by way of persuasive appeal (and lack of descriptive meaning). Unsatisfied that ‘‘quality of care’’ operates as a mere buzzword in morally contentious debates over resource allocation and duties of care, I implore health care communities to go beyond mere commitments to quality and, instead, to focus attention on the difficult task of specifying what counts as quality care within an economically constrained health care system.
Keywords quality of care  persuasive definition  evidence-based medicine
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DOI 10.1007/s11017-012-9230-4
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