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The merits or otherwise of publishing hospital specific death rates are much debated. This article compares the relative sensitivity of measures of process and outcome to differences in quality of care for the hospital treatment of myocardial infarction. Aspects of hospital care that have a proved impact on mortality from myocardial infarction are identified, and the results from meta-analysis and large randomised controlled trials are used to estimate the impact that optimal use of these interventions would have on mortality in a typical district general hospital. Sample size calculations are then performed to determine how many years of data would be needed to detect significant differences between hospitals. A comparison is then made with the amount of data that would be needed to detect significant differences if information about process of care was being collected. Process measures based on the results of randomised controlled trials were found to be able to detect relevant differences between hospitals that would not be identified by comparing hospital specific mortality, which is an insensitive indicator of the quality of care.