(NewsUSA) – The ongoing debate about health care reform obscures an important fact: Americans get better care today than they did 20 years ago.

A key reason is the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA). The nonprofit organization was founded in 1990 to measure quality and make health care more transparent and accountable. Dr. Elliott Fisher, Director of Population Health and Policy at the Dartmouth Institute, credits NCQA for reporting quality the same way across the country so people can make “apples-to-apples comparison” when choosing health plans.

By making care more transparent and accountable, NCQA has saved thousands of lives and millions of dollars. It does this by helping people get care they need and preventing waste. Children today are nearly three times more likely to get their recommended immunizations than they were in 1997, thanks in large part to NCQA.

The Healthcare Effectiveness Data and Information Set (HEDIS) is NCQA’s main tool for improving health care. HEDIS shows how often insurers provide scientifically recommended tests and treatments to support more than 70 aspects of health. One-hundred twenty million Americans — about two in five — receive care from health plans held accountable by regular reporting of HEDIS results. NCQA translates the results for consumers to use online at http://reportcard.ncqa.org/.

NCQA also helps doctors’ offices serve patients better by becoming “patient-centered medical homes.” A “medical home” is not a place, but a way of organizing care. It combines teamwork and technology to transform the doctor-patient relationship from a series of hurried visits into a long-term partnership committed to keeping people healthy.

Medical homes coordinate all patient care, and make it easier for patients to get care by staying open later and keeping in touch between appointments by phone or e-mail.

The result: more satisfied, healthier patients with fewer hospital and emergency room visits.

Are you tired of being “patient” with doctors offices that expect you to work around their schedules? Find a new one who has earned NCQA Recognition as a patient-centered medical home.