BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders 2013 14:275

Enhancing the quality of international orthopedic medical mission trips using the blue distinction criteria for knee and hip replacement centers

Kyle E Dempsey, Roya Ghazinouri, Desiree Diez, Luis Alcantara, Carolyn Beagan, Barbara Aggouras, Monica Hoagland, Thomas S Thornhill & Jeffrey N Katz
Hip Knee


Several organizations seek to address the growing burden of arthritis in developing countries by providing total joint replacements (TJR) to patients with advanced arthritis who otherwise would not have access to these procedures. Because these mission trips operate in resource poor environments, some of the features typically associated with high quality care may be difficult to implement. In the U.S., many hospitals that perform TJRs use the Blue Cross/Shield’s Blue Distinction criteria as benchmarks of high quality care. Although these criteria were designed for use in the U.S., we applied them to Operation Walk (Op-Walk) Boston’s medical mission trip to the Dominican Republic. Evaluating the program using these criteria illustrated that the program provides high quality care and, more importantly, helped the program to find areas of improvement.


We used the Blue Distinction criteria to determine if Op-Walk Boston achieves Blue Distinction. Each criterion was grouped according to the four categories included in the Blue Distinction criteria— “general and administrative”, “structure”, “process”, or “outcomes and volume”. Full points were given for criteria that the program replicates entirely and zero points were given for criteria that are not replicated entirely. Of the non-replicated criteria, Op-Walk Boston’s clinical and administrative teams were asked if they compensate for failure to meet the criterion, and they were also asked to identify barriers that prevent them from meeting the criterion.


Out of 100 possible points, the program received 71, exceeding the 60-point threshold needed to qualify as a Blue Distinction center. The program met five out of eight “required” criteria and 11 out of 19 “informational” criteria. It scored 14/27 in the “general” category, 30/36 in the “structure” category, 17/20 in the “process” category, and 10/17 in the “outcomes and volume” category.


Op-Walk Boston qualified for Blue Distinction. Our analysis highlights areas of programmatic improvement and identifies targets for future quality improvement initiatives. Additionally, we note that many criteria can only be met by hospitals operating in the U.S. Future work should therefore focus on creating criteria that are applicable to TJR mission trips in the context of developing countries.

Download article