The 1980s and 90s have seen the proliferation of all forms of performance indicators as part of attempts to command and control health services. The latest area to receive attention is health outcomes. Published league tables of mortality and other health outcomes have been available in the United States for some time and in Scotland since the early 1990s; they have now been developed for England and Wales. Publication of these data has proceeded despite warnings as to their limited meaningfulness and usefulness. The time has come to ask whether the remedy is worse than the malady: are published health outcomes contributing to quality efforts or subverting more constructive approaches? This paper argues that attempts to force improvements through publishing health outcomes can be counterproductive, and outlines an alternative approach which involves fostering greater trust in professionalism as a basis for quality enhancements.
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