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Performance indicators for public mental healthcare: a systematic international inventory



The development and use of performance indicators (PI) in the field of public mental health care (PMHC) has increased rapidly in the last decade. To gain insight in the current state of PI for PMHC in nations and regions around the world, we conducted a structured review of publications in scientific peer-reviewed journals supplemented by a systematic inventory of PI published in policy documents by (non-) governmental organizations.


Publications on PI for PMHC were identified through database- and internet searches. Final selection was based on review of the full content of the publications. Publications were ordered by nation or region and chronologically. Individual PI were classified by development method, assessment level, care domain, performance dimension, diagnostic focus, and data source. Finally, the evidence on feasibility, data reliability, and content-, criterion-, and construct validity of the PI was evaluated.


A total of 106 publications were included in the sample. The majority of the publications (n = 65) were peer-reviewed journal articles and 66 publications specifically dealt with performance of PMHC in the United States. The objectives of performance measurement vary widely from internal quality improvement to increasing transparency and accountability. The characteristics of 1480 unique PI were assessed. The majority of PI is based on stakeholder opinion, assesses care processes, is not specific to any diagnostic group, and utilizes administrative data sources. The targeted quality dimensions varied widely across and within nations depending on local professional or political definitions and interests. For all PI some evidence for the content validity and feasibility has been established. Data reliability, criterion- and construct validity have rarely been assessed. Only 18 publications on criterion validity were included. These show significant associations in the expected direction on the majority of PI, but mixed results on a noteworthy number of others.


PI have been developed for a broad range of care levels, domains, and quality dimensions of PMHC. To ensure their usefulness for the measurement of PMHC performance and advancement of transparency, accountability and quality improvement in PMHC, future research should focus on assessment of the psychometric properties of PI.

Peer Review reports


Public mental healthcare (PMHC) systems are responsible for the protection of health and wellbeing of a community, and the provision of essential human services to address these public health issues [1, 2]. The PMHC-system operates on three distinct levels of intervention. At a population-level, PMHC-services promote wellbeing of the total population within a catchment area. At a risk group-level, PMHC-services are concerned with the prevention of psychosocial deterioration in specific subgroups subject to risk-factors such as long-term unemployment, social isolation, and psychiatric disorders. Finally, at an individual care-level, PMHC-services provide care and support for individuals with severe and complex psychosocial problems who are characterized either by not actively seeking help for their psychiatric or psychosocial problems, or by not having their health needs met by private (regular) health care services [3]. However, a service developed or initially financed with public means, as a reaction to an identified hiatus in the private health care system, may eventually be incorporated in the private health care system. The dynamics of this relation between the public and private mental health care systems are determined locally by variations in the population, type and number of health care providers, and the available public means. Thus, the specific services provided by the PMHC system at any moment in time differs between nations, regions, or even municipalities.

At the individual care-level, four specific functions of PMHC can be identified [4]. 1) guided referral, which includes signaling and reporting (multi-) problem situations, making contact with the client, screening to clarify care-needs, and executing a plan to guide the client to care, 2) coordination and management of multi-dimensional care provided to persons that present with complex clinical conditions, ensuring cooperation and information-exchange between providers (e.g. mental health-, addiction-, housing- and social services), 3) develop and provide treatment that is not provided by private healthcare organizations, often by funding private healthcare organizations to provide services for specific conditions (e.g. early psychosis intervention services, or methadone maintenance services), and 4) monitoring trends in the target group.

Accountability for services and supports delivered, and funding received, is becoming a key component in the public mental health system. As part of a health system, each organization is not only accountable for their own services, but has some responsibility for the functioning of the system as a whole as well [5]. International healthcare organizations, as well as national and regional policymakers are developing performance indicators (PI) to measure and benchmark the performance of health care systems as a precondition for evidence-based health policy reforms. [e.g. [611]]. Many organizations have initiated the development and implementation of quality assessment strategies in PMHC. However, a detailed overview of PI for PMHC is lacking.

To provide an overview of the current state of PI for PMHC we conducted a structured review of publications in scientific peer-reviewed journals supplemented by a systematic inventory of PI published in policy documents and reports by (non-) governmental organizations (so-called 'grey literature'). First, the different initiatives on performance measurement in PMHC-systems and services were explored. Second, the unique PI were categorized according to their characteristics including domain of care (i.e. structure, process or outcome), dimension of quality (e.g. effectiveness, continuity, and accessibility), and method of development (e.g. expert opinion, or application of existing instruments). Finally, we assessed the evidence on the reliability and validity of these performance measures as indicators of quality for public mental healthcare.


Publications reporting on PI for PMHC were identified through database- and internet searches. Ovid Medline, PsychInfo, CINAHL and Google (scholar) searches were conducted using any one of the following terms and/or mesh headings, on (aspects of) PMHC: 'mental health system', 'public health system', 'mental health services','public health services', 'mental health care', 'public health care', 'state medicine', 'mental disorders', 'addiction', 'substance abuse', 'homeless', and 'domestic violence'; combined with any one of the following terms/mesh headings on performance measurement: 'quality indicator','quality measure', performance indicator', 'performance measure', and 'benchmarking'.

Database searches were limited to literature published in the period between 1948 and 2010; Google search was conducted in October 2009. Included websites were revisited in February 2011 to check for updates. Publications had to be in the English or Dutch language to be included. Studies, reports and websites were included for further review if a focus on quality measurement of healthcare services related to PMHC became apparent form title, header, or keywords. Abstracts and executive summaries were reviewed to exclude publications on somatic care; elderly care; children's healthcare; and healthcare education. Final selection was based on review of the full content, excluding publications that did not specify the measures applied to assess health care performance. Reference lists of the included publications were reviewed to assure all relevant publications were included in the final sample. Generally, all publically funded services aimed at the preservation, maintenance, improvement of the mental and social health of an adult population, risk-group or individual were considered part of the PMHC system. However, publications on PI designed for private mental health care were included when these PI were applied, or referred to, in publications on PMHC quality assessment.

Included publications were ordered by nation or region. Publications from the same nation were ordered chronologically. Subsequently, we assessed the objective of the publication, the designation of the proposed PI (-set) or quality framework, and the purpose of the proposed PI (-set) or quality framework.

The individual PI were then classified by the following characteristics: a) method of development; b) level of assessment; c) domains of care as proposed by Donabedian [12]; d) dimensions of performance; e) focus on specific diagnosis or conditions; and f) data source. In some cases, the care domain, and/or dimension of performance were not explicitly reported in the publication. The missing domain or dimension was then specified by the author based on: 1) commonly used dimensions in that region as described by Arah et al. [13]; 2) purpose and perspective of the quality framework; and 3) similar PI from other publications for which a domain and/or dimension was specified.

Finally, evidence on the feasibility, data reliability and validity of the included PI was reviewed. Feasibility of PI refers to the possibility that an indicator can be implemented in the PMHC-system or service, given the current information-infrastructure and support by the field. Data reliability refers to the accuracy and completeness of data, given the intended purposes for use [14]. Three forms of validity are distinguished: a) Content-related validity, which refers to evidence that an indicator covers important aspects of the quality of PMHC. b) Criterion-related validity, which refers to evidence that an indicator is related to some external criterion that is observable, measurable, and taken as valid on its face. c) Construct-related validity, which refers to evidence that an indicator measures the theoretical construct of quality and/or performance of PMHC [15, 16].


Publications on PMHC quality measurement

The library-database and internet search resulted in 3193 publications in English- and Dutch- language peer-reviewed journals and websites from governmental as well as nongovernmental organizations. Further selection based on title- and keyword criteria resulted in the inclusion of approximately 480 publications. After reviewing the abstracts, 152 publications on quality measurement in adult (public) mental health care were included. Final selection based on full publication content resulted in the exclusion of another 46 publications that did not explicitly specify the measures applied to assess health care performance, leaving 106 publications to be included in the final sample.

Table 1 shows the included publications structured by nation/region and date of (first) publication.

Table 1 Publications and PMHC quality measurement initiatives per nation/region

Publications on indicator development, implementation, and validation within ten nations were found. Three international organizations (i.e. European Union, OECD, and WHO) developed PI for between nation comparisons. The majority of the publications (n = 90, 85%) focus on the quality of PMHC in nations where English is the native language (Australia, Canada, United Kingdom, and USA), and 66 publications (61%) are concerned with PMHC in the United States. In contrast, publications that focus on the measurement of PMHC quality in Spain, Germany, Italy, South Africa, the Netherlands, and Singapore together only account for 12% of the total sample. The majority of the publications were found in peer-reviewed journals (n = 65; 61%), the remaining publications (n = 41; 39%) consisted of reports, bulletins, and websites by governmental and non-governmental organizations. In the next sections, the performance measurement initiatives and publications per nation/region are discussed.

United States

In the United States, essential public (mental) health care services are jointly funded by the federal Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and state governments. Services are provided by state and local agencies and at a federal level administered by eleven DHHS-divisions, which include the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA) [1].

A considerable number of initiatives on performance measurement of the public mental healthcare in the United States at national, state, local, and service level were found. In the 1990s, the growth of managed care delivery systems in behavioral health raised the need for quality assurance and accountability instruments, and led to an increase in the number of publications on the development of performance measures in scientific literature. A total of 121 measures for various aspects and dimensions of the performance of public mental health providers, services, and systems were proposed [20, 22, 24, 25, 27, 29, 33, 36].

In the following section, ten national initiatives that focus on between-state comparable PI are discussed in more detail. Some distinctive examples of within-state PMHC performance measurement initiatives are discussed subsequently.

One of the first, more comprehensive, and most widespread quality indicator systems in the U.S. is the Health plan/Employer Data Information System (HEDIS). HEDIS is a set of standardized performance measures designed to enable purchasers and consumers to reliably compare the performance of managed care plans. Relatively few measures of mental health care and substance abuse services were included in the early versions of the HEDIS. The 2009 version only includes six measures of the performance of these services [19]. With increasing popularity of managed care plan models in PMHC, the HEDIS mental health care performance measures are widely accepted in private as well as public mental health care performance measurement projects. The measures were utilized to assess the relationship of mental health care quality with general health care quality and mental health care volume in health plans that included programs funded by state and federal governments (i.e. Medicaid) [48, 64].

A set of quality indicators that is more specifically tailored to measuring the quality of mental health services was developed by the Mental Health Statistics Improvement Program (MHSIP). The program aims to assess general performance, support management functions, and maximize responsiveness to service needs of mental health services and published the Consumer-Oriented Report Card including 24 indicators of Access, Appropriateness, Outcomes, and Prevention [21]. Eisen et al. evaluated the consumer surveys from both the HEDIS (the Consumer Assessment of Behavioral Health Survey; CABHS) and the MHSIP Consumer Survey. The results of this study were reviewed by several national stakeholder organizations to make recommendations for developing a survey combining the best features of each. This resulted in the development of the Experience of Care and Health Outcomes (ECHO) survey [40]. Building on the experiences with the Consumer-oriented Report Card and the advances in quality measurement and health information technology the MHSIP proposed a set of 44 PI in their Quality Report [71].

The nationwide health promotion and disease prevention agenda for the first decade of the 20th century was aimed at increasing quality and years of healthy life and eliminate health disparities [31]. This agenda contained objectives and measures to improve health organized into 28 focus areas, including Mental Health and Mental disorders and Substance Abuse.

The national association representing state mental health commissioners/directors and their agencies (NASMHPD) provided a framework for the implementation of standardized performance measures in mental health systems [35]. A workgroup had reviewed national indicators and instruments, surveyed state mental health authorities, and conducted a feasibility study in five states. Using the MHSIP-domains as a starting point, the resulting framework includes 32 PI for state mental health systems.

The American College of Mental Health Administration (ACMHA) recognized the need for a national dialog, a shared vision in the field of mental health and substance abuse services, and an agreement on a core set of indicators and formed workgroup that collaborated with national accrediting organizations to propose 35 indicator definitions. These definitions were organized in three domains (i.e. access, process and outcome) applicable to quality measurement for either comparison between mental health services or internal quality improvement activities [37].

In response to the interest expressed by a number of states to develop a measure related to recovery that could be used to assess the performance of state and local mental health systems and providers, a national research project for the development of recovery facilitating system performance indicators was carried out. The Phase One Report on the factors that facilitate or hinder recovery from psychiatric disabilities set a conceptual framework [120]. This provided the base for a core set of system-level indicators that measure structures and processes of a recovery-facilitating environment, and generate comparable data across state and local mental health systems [68]. The second phase of the project included the development of the Recovery Oriented System Indicators (ROSI) measures based on the findings of phase one, a prototype test and review of self-report indicators in seven states, and a survey to receive feedback on administrative indicators with nine states. The ROSI consists of a 42-item consumer self-report survey, and a 23-item administrative data profile that gather data on experiences and practices that enhance or hinder recovery [76].

Parallel to the efforts to establish standardized measures of mental health and substance abuse care performance, the National Public Health Performance Standards Program (NPHPSP) developed three assessment instruments to assist state and local partners in assessing and improving their public health system, and guide state and local jurisdictions in evaluating their current performance against a set of optimal standards. Each of the three NPHPSP instruments is based on a framework of ten Essential Public Health Services which represent the spectrum of public health activities that should be provided in any jurisdiction. The NPHPSP is not specifically focused on the public mental health care, but it is one of the first national programs that aim to measure the performance of the overall public health system that includes public, private, and voluntary entities that contribute to public health activities within a given area [49]. Beaulieu and Schutchfield [50] assessed the face and content validity of the instrument for local public health systems and found that the standards were highly valid measures of local public health system performance. Beaulieu et al. evaluated the content and criterion validity of the local instrument, and the content validity of the state performance assessment instrument. The local and state performance instruments were found to be content valid measures of (resp.) local and state system performance. The criterion validity of a summary performance score on the local instrument could be established, but was not upheld for performance judgments on individual Essential Services [51]. After their publications in 2002, NPHPSP's public health performance assessment instruments had been applied in 30 states. The NPHPSP consorted with seven national organizations, consulted with experts in the field of public health, and conducted field tests to inform revisions of these instruments [80].

One of the first national initiatives to develop performance measures that include socioeconomic and psychosocial care focused on the development of core performance indicators for homeless-serving programs administered by the DHHS [52]. Based on interviews with program officials and review of existing documentation and information systems, 17 indicators that could be used by these programs were suggested, despite large differences between programs.

A pilot test of PI of access, appropriateness, outcome, and program management on a statewide basis, part of NASMHPD's Sixteen state study on mental health performance measures, demonstrated the potential for developing standardized measures across states and confirmed that the realization of the full potential will depend on enhancements of the data and performance measurement infrastructure. Furthermore, it was demonstrated that states can use their current performance measurement system to report comparable information [58].

An online database providing more than 300 process measures for assessment and improvement of mental health and substance abuse care was set up by the Center for Quality Assessment and Improvement in Mental Health (CQAIMH). Each measure is accompanied by a clinical rationale, numerator and denominator specifications, information on data sources, domain of quality, evidence basis, and developer contact information [121]. This national inventory of mental health quality measures includes many of the measures developed by the national initiatives discussed above as well as many process measures developed by individual states. It is one of the most comprehensive and broadly supported performance assessment and -improvement tools in the field of (public) mental health care to date.

In addition to the quality measurements requested by national organizations and federal agencies, some states have developed quality assessment instruments or measures tailored specifically to their data sources and mental health care system. For example, the state of Vermont's federally funded Mental health Performance Indicator Project asked members of local stakeholders in the field of mental health (i.e. providers, purchasers, and government agencies) to recommend specific PI for inclusion in a publicly available mental health report card of program performance. This multi-stakeholder advisory group proposed indicators structured in three domains, i.e. 'treatment outcomes', 'access to care', and 'practice patterns' [34].

Another example of state-specific public mental health performance measurement was found in the state of California. A Quality Improvement Committee established indicators of access and quality to provide the information needed to continuously improve the care provided in California's public mental health system. The committee adopted the performance measurement terminology used by the ACMHA and judged possible indicators against a number of criteria (such as availability of data in the California mental health system). A total of 15 indicators were formulated in four domains: structure, access, process, and outcomes. So-called special studies were designed to assess gaps in data-availability and determine benchmarks of performance [39].

Other states and localities took similar initiatives which often served a dual purpose. On the one hand, the indicators provide accountability information for federally funded programs (e.g. Minnesota, Virginia) [45, 81], and on the other, the indicators provide local providers and service delivery systems with information to improve state mental health care quality (e.g. Virginia; Maryland) [53, 60]. Successful implementation of such state-initiated quality assessment systems is not guaranteed. Blank et al. [61] reported on the pilot implementation of the Performance and Outcomes Measurement System (POMS) by the state of Virginia. The pilot was perceived to be costly, time-consuming and burdensome by the majority of the representatives of participating community health centers and state hospitals. Despite large investments and efforts in redesigning POMS to be more efficient and responsive, the POMS-project was cancelled due to state budget-cuts in 2002. Two years later, Virginia participated in a pilot to demonstrate the use of the ROSI survey to measure a set of mental health system PI [122].


Canada's health care system is publicly funded and administered on a provincial or territorial basis, within guidelines set by the federal government. The provincial and territorial governments have primary jurisdiction in planning and delivery of mental health services. The federal government collaborates with the provinces and territories to develop responsive, coordinated and efficient mental health service systems [2]. This collaboration is reflected in four publications on PMHC performance measurement discussed below.

The Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) launched the Roadmap Initiative to build a comprehensive, national health information system and infrastructure. The Prototype indicator Report for Mental health and Addiction services was published as part of the Roadmap Initiative. The report contained indicators relevant to acute-, and community-based services whose costs were entirely or partially covered by a national, territorial or provincial health plan [83].

Adopting the indicator domains from the CIHI framework, the Canadian Federal/Provincial/Territorial Advisory Network on Mental Health (ANMH), provided a resource kit of PI to facilitate accountability and evaluation of mental health services and supports. Based on literature review, and expert- and stakeholder survey, the ANMH presented 56 indicators for eight domains of performance, i.e. acceptability, accessibility, appropriateness, competence, continuity, effectiveness, efficiency, and safety [83].

Utilizing the indicators and domains from the ANMH and CIHI, the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-term Care (MOHLTC) designed a mental health accountability framework that addressed the need for a multi-dimensional, system-wide framework for the public health care system, an operating manual for mental health and addiction programs, and various hospital-focused accountability tools [84].

Focusing on early psychosis treatment services, Addington et al. [85] reviewed literature and used a structured consensus-building technique to identify a set of service-level performance measures. They found 73 relevant performance measures in literature and reduced the set to 24 measures that were rated as essential by stakeholders. These disorder-specific measures cover the domains of performance originally proposed by the CIHI and utilized by the ANMH and the MOHLTC.


Medicare is Australia's universal health care system introduced in 1984. It is financed through progressive income tax and an income-related Medicare levy. Medicare provides access to free treatment in a public hospital, and free or subsidized treatment by medical practitioners including general practitioners and specialists. Mental health care services are primarily funded by government sources [123]. One report and one scientific publication on PI for Australian PMHC system and services were found.

The Australian National Mental Health Working Group (NMHWG) proposed indicators to facilitate collaborative benchmarking between public sector mental health service organizations based on the Canadian CIHI-model. Thirteen so-called Phase 1 indicators were found suitable for immediate introduction based on the available data collected by all states and territories [86].

Following major reform and ongoing deinstitutionalization of the mental health care system, Meehan et al. [87] reported on attempts to benchmark inpatient psychiatric services. They applied 25 indicators to assess performance of high secure services, rehabilitation services, and medium secure services in three rounds of benchmarking. The primary conclusion of the study was that it is possible and useful to collect and evaluate performance data for mental health services. However, information related to case mix as well as service characteristics should be included to explain the differences in service performance.

United Kingdom

Public mental health care in the UK is governed by the Department of Health (DH) and provided by the National Health Service (NHS) and social services. These services are paid for from taxation. The NHS is structured differently in various countries of the UK. In England, 28 strategic health authorities are responsible for the healthcare in their region. Health services are provided by 'trusts' that are directly accountable to the strategic health authorities. Eighteen publications concerning the quality of public mental healthcare in the UK were found. All but one focus on the PMHC in England, and only five studies are published in scientific peer-reviewed journals. In this section we highlight the large national initiatives.

A National Service Framework (NSF) for Mental Health set seven standards in five areas of PMHC (i.e. mental health promotion, primary care and access to services, effective services, caring about carers, and preventing suicide) [90]. The progress on implementation of the NSF for Mental Health was measured in several indicators per standard to assess the realization of care structures, processes, and their outcomes set out by the NSF [124].

In response to the governments' new agenda for social services, the DH issued a consultation document on a new approach to social services performance [89]. This approach included a new framework for assessing and managing social service performance that included a set of around 50 national PI for five aspects of performance: 'national priorities and strategic objectives', 'cost and efficiency', 'effectiveness of service delivery and outcomes', 'quality of services for users and carers', and 'fair access'.

The Commission for Health Improvement (CHI) published the first performance ratings for NHS mental health trusts [95]. These ratings were replaced by the Healthcare Commissions' framework for the NHS organizations and social service authorities [96]. The Healthcare Commission assesses the performance of mental health trusts against the national targets described in this new framework annually. In addition, the Health Commission initiated the 'Better Metrics' project aimed at providing healthcare authorities with clinically relevant measures of performance and assist local services in developing their own measures by producing criteria for good measures [98].

The Audit Commission, responsible for the external audit of the NHS, supported local authorities to use local PI in addition to the national services frameworks to assess their performance and responsiveness in meeting local needs by developing the local authority PI library [92]. A National Indicator Set of 188 indicators selected from this library would then become the only set of indicators on which the central government monitors the outcomes delivered by local government. The Audit Commission published the performance on these indicators annually as part of the Comprehensive Area Assessment, an effort to combine the monitoring of local services by several external auditing organizations [99].

The Association of Public Health Observatories (APHO) developed a series of reports to present information on the relative positions of the English Regions on major health policy areas. The mental health and drug use report contain over 70 indicators covering six areas of mental health policy: risk- protective factors and determinants; population health status; interventions; effectiveness of partnerships; services user experience; and workforce capacity [100, 104].

A framework for mental health day services was developed as part of the National Social Inclusion Program [97]. The framework contains 34 key- and 47 supplementary indicators reflecting the different life domains and functions of day services such as community participation, mental well being, independent living and service user involvement. To provide for application in mental health services more widely, and include services such as outreach, employment and housing support services, the framework was broadened [103].

Health Scotland established a core set of national mental health indicators for adults in Scotland [11, 125]. A set of 55 indicators was developed to provide a summary mental health profile for Scotland, enable monitoring of changes in Scotland's mental health, inform decision making about priorities for action and resource allocation, and enable comparison between population groups and geographical areas.

Non-English speaking nations

Ten scientific publications in peer-reviewed journals and one report by a governmental organization concerned with the quality of PMHC in non-English speaking countries were included. These studies and initiatives are discussed briefly in this section.

Gispert et al. [105] calculated the mental health expectancy of the population and a Spanish region to show the feasibility of a generic mental health index which covers both duration of life and a dimension of quality of life.

In Germany, an expert group consisting of professionals, patients, and policy makers from state mental hospitals, psychiatric departments, and health administrations defined 23 quality standards, for 28 areas of inpatient care, at three levels of quality assessment in psychiatric care [106]. Bramesfeld et al. [107] applied a concept of responsiveness developed by the WHO to evaluate German inpatient and outpatient mental health care. They conclude that responsiveness as a parameter of health system performance provides a structured way to evaluate mental health services. However, the instrument proposed by the WHO to assess responsiveness was found to be too complicated and in-depth for routine use in guiding improvement in mental health care.

In The Netherlands, Nabitz et al. [109] applied a concept-mapping strategy to develop a quality framework for addiction treatment programs. Nine clusters on two dimensions were identified. The three most important clusters were named 'attitude of staff', 'client orientation' and 'treatment practice'. Roeg et al. [108] applied a similar concept-mapping strategy with Dutch experts to develop a conceptual framework for assertive outreach programs for substance abusers and formulated nine aspects of quality as well. They classified these aspects in structure, process and outcome, and found the clusters named 'service providers' activities', 'optimal care for client' and 'preconditions for care' to be the most important aspects of care in relation to quality.

An assessment of the validity of 11 PI for the Dutch occupational rehabilitation of employees with mental health problems showed evidence on the content validity of these PI, but could not establish a relation between these PI and outcome [110]. Indicators of pre- and post admission care were applied to assess the quality of another modality of Dutch public mental health care, i.e. compulsory mental health treatment, to conclude that these indicators are useful measures of mental health care utilization [111].

The only governmental report on PMHC performance measurement in non-English speaking nations around the world was published by the Dutch Health Care Inspection's Steering Committee-Transparency Mental Healthcare which presented a basic set of 32 PI for assessment of effectiveness, safety and client-centeredness of mental health care, addiction care, and forensic care services to provide the public with quantifiable and understandable measures for the quality of care [112].

A team of Italian researchers derived 15 indicators of guideline conformance from several schizophrenia treatment guidelines [113]. They found these PI to be a simple and useful tool to monitor the appropriateness of schizophrenia treatment provided by public institutions.

To assess the balance of resource allocation between community and hospital-based services in South Africa, Lund and Flisher developed indicators measuring staff distribution and patient service utilization [114]. They conclude that community/hospital indicators provide a useful tool for monitoring patterns of service development over time, while highlighting resource and distribution problems between provinces.

Finally, in Singapore two psychiatrists identified 13 process indicators from literature and guidelines that assess the quality of an early psychosis treatment intervention to inform clinicians on their treatment and to provide a tool for policymakers [115].


Next to these national/regional/local indicator sets and quality measurement frameworks, three international organizations, i.e. the European Commission (EC), the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and the World Health Organization (WHO) reported on their efforts to develop PI for standardized quality measurement and comparison of PMHC quality between nations.

The Commission of the European Communities' National Research and Development Centre for Welfare and Health (STAKES) has coordinated a project to establish a set of indicators to monitor mental health in Europe. The proposed set contained 36 indicators covering health status, determinants of health, and health systems, based on meetings with representatives of mental health organizations in the member states and other organizations including WHO-Euro, OECD, EMCDDA and Eurostat. Validity, reliability and comparability of the drafted set of indicators were further tested by collecting data from existing data sources and conducting a pilot survey. Only some of the data collected were found to be reliably comparable and available as national mental health systems differed substantially in organization and structure [8].

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Health Care Quality Indicators Project identified priority areas for development of comparable indicators for the technical quality of national health systems, using a structured review process to obtain consensus in a panel of experts and stakeholders from 21 countries, the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Bank, and leading research organizations. 12 indicators were proposed covering treatment, continuity of care, coordination of care, and patient outcomes [10]. As in the EU--STAKES project, OECD researchers found that selecting a set of indicators for international use is constrained by the limited range of data potentially available on a comparable basis in many countries.

To assess key components of a mental health system and provide essential information to strengthen mental health systems, the WHO developed the Assessment Instrument for Mental Health Systems (WHO-AIMS 2.2). The 10 recommendations for mental health system development published in the World Health Report 2001 served as the foundation for the WHO-AIMS. Expert and stakeholder consultation, pilot testing in 12 resource-poor countries and a meeting of country representatives, resulted in an instrument consisting of six domains and 156 items which were rated to be meaningful, feasible, and actionable. As the six domains are interdependent, conceptually interlinked, and overlapping, all domains need to be assessed to form a relatively complete picture of a mental health system [116]. Thus, the WHO-AIMS can be viewed as a multi-item scale, in contrast to indicators proposed in the EU and OECD programs which were focused on single-item indicators.

Characteristics of PMHC performance indicators

A total of 1480 unique PI are included in the inventory. 370 indicators of these are represented in two or more publications. To assess individual PI we focused on characteristics reported by the developers in terms of method of development, level of assessment, Donabedian's domain of care, dimensions of performance, diagnosis or condition, and data source, as presented in Table 2.

Table 2 Classifying unique performance indicators for public mental health care

More than a quarter of the PI are based solely on expert opinion and more than half of the PI are developed using both literature review and expert consultation, with 12% utilizing a structured consensus procedure such as adaptation of the RAND-method or a modified Delphi procedure [e.g. [21, 79, 82]]. For 59 of the included PI no method of development was specified in the publication.

With regard to the level of assessment, the majority of the PI (55.7%) aim to assess the quality of a PMHC system. These PI incorporate data from multiple service providers within a region (e.g. county, state, province, nation) to measure the standard of PMHC-quality either against benchmarks set by the regional legislator, or against the PMHC-quality in other regions. Only 7 PI were specifically designed to assess the performance of individual clinicians, i.e. physicians in a community mental health center [24]. The remaining PI (43.9%) measure the performance on a service-level to improve quality of care, gain transparency for purchasers, or inform patient-choice.

We found more than a third of the PI measure performance in terms of treatment outcome, for instance in suicide rates, crime rates, or incidence rates of homelessness. Almost half of the included PI are process measures. Based on guidelines that specify 'best practice' treatment processes, for instance in terms of duration, contact intensity, or medication dosage, these PI are usually formulated as a proportion of a population that is provided with a treatment according to guidelines. However, there are differences in both the guidelines used (e.g. the number of days between discharge from inpatient treatment and the first outpatient contact varies between 1 and 30), and in the population used in the denominator of the PI (e.g. the percentage of the population in a region vs. the population that receives treatment).

Dimension of performance is the most diverse categorization of PI. To structure the PI from different regions and developers by dimension of performance, some concepts that are strongly related were grouped, resulting in eight main dimensions of performance. 42.8% of the PI aim to measure the 'effectiveness' of PMHC and provide stakeholders with a measure of degree of achieving desirable outcomes. Another 19.5% of the PI are designed to measure the 'accessibility' and 'equity' of PMHC. Remarkably, only 2.9% of the PI assess the efficiency, cost, or expenditure of PMHC.

A large majority of the PI (69.9%) is not specific to any diagnostic group or a group with a certain condition (such as homelessness). Relatively many of the diagnosis-specific PI are developed for psychosis-related disorders (8.4%) and substance abuse disorders (8.2%), as many individuals in the target-group of PMHC cope with these disorders.

Finally, the data source of the included PI was inventoried. For a considerable number of PI (22.5%), no data source was specified. Development of these PI did often include the specification of the data needed for the PI, but did not identify a data source. More than half of the PI for which a data source was specified are based on administrative data or medical records.

Feasibility, data reliability and validity of PMHC performance indicators

Aspects of feasibility and content validity of PI can be established through literature review and expert consultation. Almost all PI development initiatives have used literature review and/or expert-consultation methods to establish at least some evidence on the content validity of the proposed PI. Furthermore, through stakeholder-consultation techniques, ranging from telephone interviews and expert meetings to structured consensus procedures, possibilities for implementation and support for the PI in the field is often assessed as well, thus establishing evidence for the feasibility of the PI. With regard to content validity and feasibility (i.e. support in the field and expected reliability) we confine ourselves to remarking that for all the PI included in this inventory, some evidence for the content validity and feasibility has been established. However, the strength of the evidence varies and depends heavily on the methods used to consult stakeholders and experts [126].

Although forms of reliability that are relevant to PI based on surveys and audits, such as test-retest reliability and inter-rater reliability, have been examined by several indicator developers [e.g. [71, 76, 88]], reliability in terms of accuracy and completeness of the (administrative) data sources used for PI has rarely been assessed. A number of organizations and authors have recognized that information contained in databases and patient records may be incomplete, inaccurate, or misleading which can have a considerable effect on the usability and feasibility of the PI [e.g. [21, 52, 69]]. However, we found only two studies that assessed the accuracy or availability of the information needed for the PI. Huff used data from the Massachusetts state contractor's claims data set used for paying providers and data from the Medicaid beneficiary eligibility file. The author considered key fields in the claims dataset to be of high reliability because those data elements are essential in determining service reimbursement and the timeline of the payments. The eligibility file had some reliability problems with a small subset of duplicate cases and missing values in specific fields, in particular 'beneficiary race'. Huff concluded that both data-files were sufficiently reliable, at least for the intended study [32]. Garcia Armesto et al. provided an overview of mental health care information systems in 18 OECD countries to support the implementation of the OECD system level PI selected in 2004. They conducted a survey in each of the participating countries to gather information on the types of system-level mental health data available, the data sources available on a national level, and the institutional arrangements on ownership and use of the information systems and concluded that data on mental health care structures and activities is generally available but data necessary for measurement of mental health processes and outcomes is more problematic. Furthermore, the integration of information systems across different levels of care provision (i.e. inpatient, outpatient, ambulatory, and community care) was found to be low [119]. The mixed results presented by these two studies show that data reliability (accuracy as well as completeness) cannot be presumed to be sufficient for the implementation of PI for PMHC.

We found 18 publications that focused on the relation between an indicator and an external criterion. A broad range of criteria have been used in these assessments of the criterion and construct validity of PI. The criteria vary in perspective (covering subjective quality or technical quality), domain of care (measures of structure, process or outcome), and in data source (questionnaires, audits, or administrative data). The studied PI, the criteria used to validate the PI, and the outcome of the study are shown in Table 3.

Table 3 Published descriptions and properties of unique performance indicators for public mental health care

Six studies have focused on the relations between measures of (client) satisfaction and indicators of technical PMHC quality. Either by assessing the relation of a measure of satisfaction with an external criterion [17, 22] or using measures of satisfaction as criteria for PMHC quality to study the usefulness of PI of PMHC processes and (clinical) outcomes [30, 59, 91, 110]. Four of these studies show significant associations between the satisfaction measure with measures of effectiveness, appropriateness, accessibility, and responsiveness. Another study reported relations between measures of satisfaction and measures of effectiveness and appropriateness as well, but those associations disappeared when client-level data were aggregated to reflect the quality on a service level of assessment. A relation between satisfaction and a measure of continuity of care, however, did remain significant on both levels of assessment. One study did not find any association of measures of client satisfaction with community-valued outcome indicators, such as involvement in meaningful activities or residential independence. Thus, we found evidence to support the criterion validity of satisfaction measures, specifically as measures of the continuity of PMHC. However, measures of client satisfaction seem to be less useful in the assessment of the long-term effect of PMHC on a population in its catchment area.

Two studies assessed the validity of preadmission care as an indicator for the quality of public mental health services [44, 111]. Both studies found a relation between preadmission care and post-discharge use of care. The associations of preadmission care measures and measures of readmission found in these studies were more mixed. Wierdsma et al. found no relations between preadmission care and readmission within 90 days or within one year, and Dausey et al. found that clients who received preadmission care were slightly more likely to be readmitted within 14, 30 and 180 days after discharge. The studies show contradictory results on the associations of preadmission care and the length of stay. In one study length of stay is increased when the clients receives any care before admission, while the other study reports a decrease in length of stay when any preadmission care is received. Based on the results of these studies, receiving preadmission care can be considered to be useful in assessment of the continuity of PMHC. However, the validity of 'length of stay' as a criterion for PMHC quality is questionable. A study by Huff used readmission within 30 days after discharge for an acute mental health care need as a criterion measure and showed no association of median length of stay and this criterion [32]. Length of stay was the only measure of the eight measures assessed in this study that showed no relation with the criterion.

PI for the appropriateness of depression care, and their relation to mental health care outcomes and structures were assessed in three studies [62, 64, 70]. The PI assess appropriateness expressed as the ratio of clients receiving outpatient depression care, which receive guideline-conformant medication dosage, medication duration, and follow-up visits. The results of these studies with regard to the criterion validity of these PI vary. The two studies that assessed the relation of dosage adequacy did not find an association with the outcome criteria. Two studies that assessed (measures of) appropriate medication duration did find associations with volume of care, and post-care period hospitalizations, but the one study that included medication duration in an indicator of appropriate medication did not find a relation with the outcome-criterion absenteeism. The results on measures of follow-up visit adequacy were mixed as well. Associations with volume and absenteeism were shown, but no relation to post-care period hospitalizations was found.

Two studies proposed PI that included aspects of service need and assessed their usefulness [41, 66]. In showing that these PI are associated with PMHC processes (i.e. average caseload and provided service hours) and outcomes (i.e. medico-legal and suicide mortality rates), these studies contributed to the evidence on the usefulness of PI that incorporate service-need of clients.

The validity of PI developed by (semi-) governmental organizations was assessed in only two studies published in peer-reviewed journals. Druss et al. used HEDIS measures of medication management and follow-up to assess the volume-quality relationship and found significant associations between both follow-up and medication management measures, and volume of mental health services [64]. A study by Beaulieu et al. assessed the criterion validity of the performance measurement instrument for local public health systems, developed by the CDC [50]. They reported on the association of responses on the instrument and documentary evidence and found that it validated the responses. However, a second method employed to validate the response on the instrument against ratings by external judges proved to be unreliable due to lack of knowledge of the local systems of the judges.

Three studies assessed the validity of measures of mental health care structure as measures of quality. Macias et al. assessed the potential worth of model-specific mental health program certification as a core component of state and regional performance contracting with mental health agencies. Based on an evaluation of International Center for Clubhouse Development prototype certification program, they conclude that a model-based certification program can attain sufficient validity to justify its inclusion in mental health service performance contracting [28]. Davis and Lowell suggested an optimum ratio of state-operated to community-operated psychiatric hospital beds and assessed the relation of (deviation from) this ratio to suicide rate, and cost of mental health care. The results of these studies show that suicide rate is lower in states in which these ratios were close to the theoretical optimum. The relationship of the optimum ratio and cost per capita was less clear cut. A linear relationship was found only when outliers were excluded [42, 43].

Finally, Nieuwenhuijsen et al. assessed the relationship of ten process measures and their summed score with two measures of outcome i.e. time to return to work, and change in level of fatigue. Time to return to work was found to be related to only three of the process measures and the summed score, and no significant relations between change in level of fatigue and any of the process measures were found. Thus, although content validity of ten of the eleven PI was established, the criterion validity of most of the separate PI was not [110].


This systematic review set to provide insight into the state of quality assessment efforts for public mental health care (PMHC) services and systems around the world, the characteristics of performance indicators (PI) proposed by these projects, and the evidence on feasibility, data reliability and validity of PI for PMHC.

The systematic inventory of literature resulted in the inclusion of 106 publications that specified PI, sets of PI, or performance frameworks for the development of PI. 1480 unique PI for PMHC were proposed covering a wide variety of care domains and quality dimensions. Establishment of aspects of feasibility and content validity of PI seem to be an integral part in indicator development processes. Through review of literature, expert consultation, or stakeholder consensus almost all publications show that the PI under development can be implemented, and measure a meaningful aspect of health care quality. We found that for almost a quarter of the PI no data source was specified in the publication. Most of the remaining PI (53%) are based on administrative data. Eighteen publications, 17% of the total, reported on the assessment of criterion validity of PI for PMHC. In these publications, the criterion validity of 56 PI was assessed, less than 4% of the total. This percentage is even lower when we take into account that several studies assessed similar PI.

The majority of the publications focused on PMHC systems and services in the United States and over 80% of the publications were concerned with PMHC systems in English-speaking nations. This could be explained by the organizational structure of the U.S. health care provision and payment system, which is primarily operated by private sector organizations, has traditionally put a relatively large emphasis on transparency and accountability of costs and performance of health care providers. The introduction of managed care techniques and organizations in U.S. mental health care in the late 90's has spurred the development of quality assurance instruments even further. This resulted in a plethora of PI to provide local, state, and federal administrators with information for PMHC policy and -funding purposes as well as to guide quality improvement efforts. The skewness of the distribution of publications towards PMHC in English-speaking nations is possibly exaggerated by including only English and Dutch publications in the review. As performance measurement programs and efforts are predominantly focused on PMHC within a nation, they are likely to be published in the language of that nation. However, the structure of the healthcare system may have a profound effect on the efforts put into performance indicator research.

More than 40% of the PI aims to measure the effectiveness or clinical focus of PMHC However, the remaining PI measure a wide variety of performance dimensions. This could indicate a lack of consensus on the definition of PMHC quality between nations and even within nations. The diversity of performance dimensions in PI is also indicative of (local) political interests in PMHC. When designing PI for PMHC systems or services, developers often consider the local political climate and interests, particularly as the policymakers and politicians are the main stakeholders and primary users of the PI.

Only a relatively small number of PI combine data from multiple sources. Although the PI aim to measure performance on a system level of care, data systems of service providers are probably still 'stand-alone'. Issues such as privacy, absence of unique identifiers, data ownership, and lack of standard data formats could prevent data systems from integrating at the same rate as the service provision.

The hazards and risks of inadequate data reliability in terms of completeness and accuracy, for the usability and feasibility of PI based on administrative data sources, have been recognized by a number of authors and leading organizations in the field of performance measurement [e.g. [71, 119]]. It is therefore surprising we only found two publications that explicitly assessed the reliability of administrative databases for PI in PMHC. It seems developers assume data reliability, at least availability and completeness, based on expert opinion and stakeholder consultation. However, providers collecting the data often have interests in the conclusions drawn from PI and when they're asked by external organizations to extract data from their client-registration systems, data reliability cannot be assumed. Especially when services or systems benefit from better performance, or the purpose of the PI is unclear to the unit (i.e. person or department) responsible for collecting the data, data reliability should be evaluated.

The consultation of experts and stakeholders not only proves to be a widely accepted method to ensure face validity and contribute to the content validity of PI, but seems an important tool to create support in the field to use the PI for accountability and transparency purposes by (external) accrediting organizations and PMHC financing bodies, or (internal) quality monitoring and improvement by PMHC care providers as well.

For only a fraction of the 1480 unique PI included in this inventory the relationship with criteria of quality has been assessed. An explanation for this finding is that criterion validity research is time-consuming and costly, and the added value is not always apparent to stakeholders. The performance on both the indicator and the criterion of a sufficiently large research group that is representative for the client population needs to be recorded in order to reliably assess the extent of the correspondence between indicator and criterion. When consensus between stakeholders on the usefulness and feasibility of PI has been procured, indicator developing organizations often do not have the funds or the incentives to further study the validity of the PI and prioritize the utilization of the PI to increase transparency or accountability of the PMHC system. Understandably, these stakeholders have more interest in the information generated with PI than in 'fundamental' characteristics of PI themselves, such as criterion validity.

While the majority of the associations between the PI and the criteria studied in the included publications are statistically significant and in the expected direction, studies report mixed and in some cases even contradictory results in several PI. Measures of satisfaction, readmission, certification status, medication dosage adequacy, length of stay, and appropriateness of screening are reported to have no significant association with one or more criteria of PMHC quality. However, other studies do report significant associations of some of the same measures with other criteria, or even use these measures as criteria to validate others. The scientific and practical utility of criterion validation depends as much on the measurement of the criterion as it does on the validity of the indicator [15]. For many concepts related to PMHC quality, valid criteria are simply not available.


The pool of indicators that have been developed assess the quality of public mental health care systems is remarkable in both size and diversity. In contrast, very little is known on several elementary psychometric properties of PI and the construct of quality of public mental health care.

Efforts should be made to solve issues with regard to data system integration, as they limit the applicability of PI, specifically on a system- or population level of measurement. Furthermore, an assessment of the information-infrastructure can be highly beneficial for the usefulness and feasibility of newly developed PI and should be an integral part of indicator development initiatives.

Demarcation of the construct of PMHC quality and definition of meaningful criteria against which PI can be validated should be the focus of future research. As the need for, and use of PI in PMHC increases, assuring the validity of PI becomes a priority to further the transparency, accountability and quality improvement agenda of PMHC.


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This study was funded by ZonMW as part of Academic Collaborative Public Health program of the Municipal Health Service Amsterdam (GGD Amsterdam) and the Department of Public Health, Academic Medical Centre--University of Amsterdam.

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Correspondence to Steve Lauriks.

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The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Authors' contributions

SL carried out the literature search, selection of publications and classification of performance indicators, participated in the design of the study, and drafted the manuscript. MCAB participated in selection of publications and classification of performance indicators, participated in the design of the study, and helped to draft the manuscript. MASDW participated in selection of publications and classification of performance indicators, participated in the design of the study, and helped to draft the manuscript. OAA participated in the design of the study and helped to draft the manuscript. NSK participated in the design and coordination of the study and helped to draft the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Lauriks, S., Buster, M.C., de Wit, M.A. et al. Performance indicators for public mental healthcare: a systematic international inventory. BMC Public Health 12, 214 (2012).

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  • Mental Health
  • Mental Health Service
  • National Health Service
  • Mental Health Care
  • Performance Indicator