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Providers’ definitions of quality and barriers to providing quality care: a qualitative study in rural Mpumalanga Province, South Africa


South Africa requires high-quality primary health care (PHC) to retain patients and optimize outcomes. While prior research has identified implementation challenges within the PHC system, there is less understanding of how providers define quality, their perceptions of barriers to providing quality care, and how they overcome these barriers. This study assesses provider views on quality at primary care clinics in a rural sub-district of Mpumalanga Province. We conducted in-depth interviews with providers in early 2019 on the value of quality metrics for providers and patients, what indicators they would use to assess clinic performance, and barriers and facilitators of delivering care. Interviews were conducted in Shangaan, audio-recorded, and translated into English. A deductive approach was used to develop a provisional coding schema, which was then refined using an inductive approach in response to patterns and themes emerging from the data. Twenty-three providers were interviewed (83% female, 65% professional nurses). Providers did not give a single standard definition of quality care. Clinic structure and resources emerged as a key issue, as providers linked deficiencies in infrastructure and support to deficits in care delivery. Providers identified mitigating strategies including informal coordination across clinics to address medication and equipment shortages. Common across the providers' discussion was poor communication between the district, PHC supervisors, and implementers at the facility level. Providers connected deficits in quality of care to inadequate infrastructure and insufficient support from district and provincial authorities; mitigating strategies across clinics could only partially address these deficits. The existence of a national quality measurement program was not broadly reflected in providers' views on quality care. These findings underscore the need for effective district and national approaches to support individual facilities, accompanied by feedback methods designed with input from frontline service providers.

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