Although Wisconsin ranks high in overall quality of health care nationally, the state performs poorly with respect to disparities in quality of care — measuring worse than the U.S. average on most reported metrics.

These gaps in quality contribute to the poor health outcomes for underserved populations, such as people with lower income and less education, racial and ethnic minorities, people with disabilities and residents of urban and rural areas.

A new strategic grant with a health equity focus funded by the Wisconsin Partnership Program will measure these disparities in an effort to improve health care and patient outcomes for Wisconsin’s most vulnerable citizens. The project, Measuring and Addressing Disparities in the Quality of Care among Wisconsin Health Systems, will measure and publicly report disparities in the quality of care for many health systems in Wisconsin.

Through public reporting of health care quality measures, the project aims to improve patient care and outcomes by motivating poorly performing health systems to increase their focus on quality improvement as it relates to health disparities — an approach that has been successful in Minnesota.

The project, led by Maureen Smith, MD, MPH, PhD, is a joint effort of the Wisconsin Collaborative for Healthcare Quality (WCHQ), a nationally recognized collaborative to improve health care quality through public reporting of quality metrics for Wisconsin health systems, the Health Innovation Program (HIP) and the Collaborative Center for Health Equity (CCHE).

The Wisconsin Collaborative for Healthcare Quality includes 38 health care organizations — 22 large health systems — and represents 65 percent of Wisconsin primary care physicians and 60 percent of all Wisconsin physicians. The Collaborative Center for Health Equity supports community-engaged research, teaching and service activities in Wisconsin and specifically targets activities intended to address disparities in health and health outcomes. The Health Innovation Program seeks to improve health care delivery and population health across the state and nation through health systems research.

The project’s long-term goal is to create a positive feedback loop within the state whereby disparities are measured; health systems report results publicly; health systems compare themselves to peers; and poorly performing systems are motivated to undertake improvement activities to address these disparities.

The successful completion of the proposed project could directly benefit Wisconsin’s most disadvantaged citizens by raising the visibility of gaps in care and motivating health systems to undertake targeted improvements that directly address these disparities.  

About the Wisconsin Partnership Program

The Wisconsin Partnership Program represents a far-reaching commitment by the UW School of Medicine and Public Health to improve health and well-being of Wisconsin residents through investments in research, education and community partnerships. Established in 2004, the Wisconsin Partnership Program has awarded over 425 research, education and community partnership grants totaling more than $190 million, aimed at improving the health of the people of Wisconsin.