Objective. To show how the use of a prospective approach to measuring the quality of services for a specific diagnosis can generate useful information for improving the quality of services in environments with limited information technology and data. \ud \ud Design. Tracer approach focusing on intensive treatment of tuberculosis in hospital. The study was conducted in Zimbabwe in 1999. Local tuberculosis management guidelines were first translated into explicit quality assessment criteria and a panel of public health experts assisted in weighting different factors (structural and process) of the criteria. Factor weightings were based on both local knowledge and experience, and potential contribution of a factor to the likelihood of a positive outcome. A total of 138 patients was recruited into the study cohort at admission and followed up to discharge. An assessment of what was done to and for the patient was made for the entire hospitalization episode using explicit criteria. Comparisons were made between actual and maximum performance scores. \ud \ud Setting. The study was conducted at four regional referral hospitals. The hospitals serve at least six secondary hospitals, and several public and private primary care facilities. The hospitals have a dual role as they also provide secondary care to their immediate catchment population. \ud \ud Results. Notable quality gaps are observed between actual and maximum quality levels in all four hospitals although the size of the gap differed significantly. Variation in the quality of services between the hospitals is explained by distinguishable differences in structural and process aspects of tuberculosis management. \ud \ud Conclusions. It is feasible to conduct prospective quality assessment in developing countries with minimal disruption of routine activities. The study also showed that prospective exploration of health care quality for a specific diagnosis can provide insights into hospital-level quality issues. Such information is useful for monitoring and improving the quality of hospital services in general
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