Health care plans often consider quality of care as a means of containing rising health costs. The assessment of physician and group practice performance has become increasingly widespread in ambulatory care. This article reviews the three main methods used to improve and assess performance: practice audits, peer-review groups and practice visits. The focus is on Europe - which countries use which methods - and on the following aspects: which authorities or bodies are responsible for setting up and running the systems, are the systems mandatory or voluntary, who takes part in assessments and what is their motivation, are patients views taken into account. Many countries run parallel systems managed by authorities working at different hierarchical levels (national, regional or local). The reasons that underlie the choice of a particular system are discussed. They are mostly related to the national health care system and to cultural factors. © 2005 Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.
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