While all the presentations at the Seventh National Conference on Quality Health Care for Culturally Diverse Populations were informative and inspiring, for me, the most important was this morning’s plenary presentation by Dr. Janet Corrigan, President and CEO of the National Quality Forum (NQF).  The NQF serves as the “consensus organization” for the field of health care quality, meaning that its “endorsement” of quality frameworks and measures becomes the authoritative standard for all health care quality activities.

While this conference series is often known as “the national cultural competency conference”, it has always been titled as a national conference on quality health care. Accordingly, for the leader of the leading quality organization in the U.S. to come to the conference and describe the work that NQF has already done – and plans to do in the future – on issues of cultural competency and disparities reduction will help move the vital work of all the conference presenters and participants from the margins of health care into the center of the national health care quality agenda.

NQF has endorsed a comprehensive framework for cultural competency – as an essential component of health care quality – and has endorsed 45 “preferred practices”, many developed and being implemented by those attending the conference.  NQF is now developing a method to assess health care organizations on how they are integrating cultural competency as part of their quality improvement activities.  While there are many useful organizational assessments available, this one will have the tremendous influence and credibility of NQF behind it.

NQF also has reviewed all its endorsed quality measures in ambulatory settings and identified which ones are “disparities-sensitive”, or of particular use in identifying and reducing health care disparities.  For ambulatory health care organizations who may say that they either are not sure they have health care disparities among their patients, or don’t know what to do it they find any disparities, this work by NQF points them to the quality measures and activities that they should work on.  Dr. Corrigan announced in her presentation that NQF will be undertaking a similar review for ALL of NQF’s endorsed quality measures beginning in 2011.

And finally, as Dr. Corrigan described the many opportunities to highlight and make progress on the national health care quality agenda through the implementation of national health care reform, she declared that “reducing disparities is in everything that we do”.  She explained that, in her view, the national quality agenda includes the collection and use of race, ethnicity and language data, stratification of all quality measures by that demographic data, public reporting of disparities data and inclusion of disparities reduction in payment reforms, and creating and supporting culturally competent health care organizations.  For all of us who have worked on these issues, Dr. Corrigan’s words call us to step up, increase our engagement in the world of health care quality, and claim our collective role as essential stakeholders in achieving national health care quality – for ALL populations.

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