Primary healthcare in developed countries is undergoing important reforms, and these require evaluation strategies to assess how well the population's expectations are being met. Although numerous instruments are available to evaluate primary healthcare (PHC) from the patient perspective, they do not all measure the same range of constructs. To analyze the extent to which important PHC attributes are covered in validated instruments measuring quality of care from the patient perspective.
We systematically identified validated instruments from the literature and by consulting experts. Using a Delphi consensus-building process, Canadian PHC experts identified and operationally defined 24 important PHC attributes. One team member mapped instrument subscales to these operational definitions; this mapping was then independently validated by members of the research team and conflicts were resolved by the PHC experts.
Of the 24 operational definitions, 13 were evaluated as being best measured by patients, 10 by providers, three by administrative databases and one by chart audits (some being best measured by more than one source). Our search retained 17 measurement tools containing 118 subscales. After eliminating redundancies, we mapped 13 unique measurement tools to the PHC attributes. Accessibility, relational continuity, interpersonal communication, management continuity, respectfulness and technical quality of clinical care were the attributes widely covered by available instruments. Advocacy, management of clinical information, comprehensiveness of services, cultural sensitivity, family-centred care, whole-person care and equity were poorly covered.
Validated instruments to evaluate PHC quality from the patient perspective leave many important attributes of PHC uncovered. A complete assessment of PHC quality will require adjusting existing tools and/or developing new instruments.