What does 'quality' add? Towards an ethics of healthcare improvement.

Alan Cribb*, Vikki Entwistle, Polly Mitchell

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)
1 Downloads (Pure)


In this paper, we argue that there are important ethical questions about healthcare improvement which are underexplored. We start by drawing on two existing literatures: first, the prevailing, primarily governance-oriented, application of ethics to healthcare quality improvement' (QI), and second, the application of QI to healthcare ethics. We show that these are insufficient for ethical analysis of healthcare improvement. In pursuit of a broader agenda for an ethics of healthcare improvement, we note that QI and ethics can, in some respects, be treated as closely related concerns and not simply as externally related agendas. To support our argument, we explore the gap between quality' and ethics' discourses and ask about the possible differences between good quality healthcare' and good healthcare'. We suggest that the word quality' both adds to and subtracts from the idea of good healthcare', and in particular that the technicist inflection of quality discourses needs to be set in the context of broader conceptualisations of healthcare improvement. We introduce the distinction between quality as a measurable property and quality as an evaluative judgement, suggesting that a core, but neglected, question for an ethics of healthcare improvement is striking the balance between these two conceptions of quality.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)118-120
Number of pages3
JournalJournal of Medical Ethics
Issue number2
Early online date15 Nov 2019
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2020


  • ethics
  • ethics quality
  • healthcare improvement
  • quality


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