Health care systems throughout the world are faced with continuously rising health care expenditure. In Germany, a fee per capita system will be introduced by 2003 to keep the budgets for hospital care within limits. As a result, numbers of hospital beds and hospitals will be cut in the coming years. On the other hand, more and more patients and health care providers are asking if they are really receiving an adequate value for their money in the treatment they receive. All this will have a strong impact on the anaesthesiologist's work and her/his perception of the different facets of quality.
Quality has various aspects for the anaesthesiologist. The patient as a customer should not incur any detrimental effects after a surgical procedure, and is accompanied by the anaesthesiologist throughout the perioperative setting. The surgeon needs optimal conditions to perform a procedure. The hospital must balance equally costs and income; this requires optimal operating room utilization. Finally, health insurance companies and the government are responsible for covering the cost of treatment according to the quality of the care delivered.
Quality assessment concerning structure, process and outcome has to take these demands into account. Continuous quality improvement in the spirit of Deming's ‘plan-do-check-act cycle’ has to be part of anaesthesiologist's everyday routine. In future, the traditional barriers between the specialities treating a patient will be disrupted when reimbursement for treatment is made according to quality and efficacy of treatment.