The Practice of Health Program Evaluation


David Grembowski

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  • Back Matter
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  • Dedication

    To Aunt Imogene


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    In writing The Practice of Health Program Evaluation, I had two purposes in mind. My first purpose was to present the major concepts, methods, and issues of evaluating health programs and services for graduate students in health administration, public health, medicine, nursing, dentistry, pharmacy, social work, public administration, and related health professions. Over the past several years, I have taught graduate courses on health program evaluation to students in the health sciences and social work. My experiences repeatedly suggested to me that both teaching and learning might improve if students had a customized textbook about the evaluation of health programs and services that presented information in a form that most students could understand. Student evaluations of earlier versions of this textbook were promising and indicated that other students may also benefit from it.

    I also had a second audience in mind when writing this book—program administrators, decision makers, and interest groups in public and private organizations, as well as health program evaluators and health services researchers. As more and more money is spent developing programs and services to solve health problems, interest has grown in evaluating their performance. For many reasons, such as improving performance or defending a program's worth, administrators in public or nonprofit agencies often are eager to evaluate how well their programs work. In addition, as the number and size of managed care organizations have grown, so has interest in evaluating the cost-effectiveness of their services and in launching programs to keep their enrolled populations healthy. Policymakers and executive-level administrators also may be interested in this material as an aid to understanding evaluation methods and interpreting findings. Evaluators and health services researchers often apply evaluation methods to assess the performance of health delivery systems and therefore also may be interested in this text. More than ever before, health professionals in both the public and private sectors want management and decision-making tools for improving the performance of health programs and services.

    My second purpose was to teach students how to become evaluators—that is, how to apply research methods in the practice of health evaluation. Designing and conducting a health program evaluation is much more than an exercise in applied research methods. All evaluations are conducted in a political context, and the ability to complete an evaluation successfully depends greatly on the evaluator's ability to navigate the political terrain. In addition, evaluation itself is a process with interconnected steps designed to produce information for decision makers and other groups. Understanding the steps and their interconnections is just as fundamental to evaluation as is knowledge of quantitative and qualitative research methods. To convey these principles, I use the metaphor of evaluation as a three-act play with a variety of actors and interest groups, each having a role and each entering and exiting the stage at different points in the evaluation process. Evaluators are one of several actors in this play, and it is critical for them to understand their role if they are to be successful.

    Applying this principle, the book has three major sections, or “Acts,” that cover basic steps of the evaluation process. “Act I: Asking the Question” occurs in the political realm, where evaluators work with decision makers and other groups to define the questions that the evaluation will answer about a program. Chapter 3 presents material to help students and health professionals develop evaluation questions.

    In “Act II: Answering the Question,” evaluation methods are applied to answer the questions about the program. After the relevant interest groups and evaluator agree on the key questions about a program, the next step is to choose one or more evaluation designs that will answer those questions. Chapter 4 presents experimental and quasi-experimental impact evaluation designs, and Chapter 5 reviews cost-effectiveness analysis, which has become more prevalent and important in health care over the past two decades. Chapter 6 presents methods for designing evaluations of program implementation, or process evaluation.

    Once a design is chosen, quantitative and qualitative methods for conducting the evaluation must be developed and implemented. Chapter 7 presents methods for choosing the populations for the evaluation and sampling members from them. Chapter 8 reviews measurement and data collection issues frequently encountered in quantitative and qualitative evaluations. Finally, Chapter 9 describes data analyses for different impact and implementation designs.

    In “Act III: Using the Answers in Decision Making,” the evaluation returns to the political realm, where findings are disseminated to decision makers, interest groups, and other constituents. A central assumption is that evaluations are useful only when their results are actually used to formulate new policy or improve program performance. Chapter 10 presents methods for developing formal dissemination plans and reviews factors that influence whether evaluation findings are used or not. Chapter 11 reviews major challenges facing the discipline in the next decade.

    In summary, by integrating the evaluation literature about health programs and services from a wide variety of sources, this book is designed to be an educational resource for teachers and students, as well as a reference for health professionals engaged in program evaluation.


    In many ways, this book is a synthesis of what I have learned about evaluation from my evaluation teachers and colleagues, and I am very grateful for what they have given me. I wish to acknowledge and thank my teachers—Marilyn Bergner and Stephen Shortell—who provided the bedrock for my professional career in health program evaluation when I was in graduate school. In those days, their program evaluation class was structured around a new, unpublished book, Health Program Evaluation, by Stephen Shortell and William Richardson, which has since become a classic in our field and provided a model for this work. I also thank Donald Miller, my urban planning professor, for his insights and cutting-edge methods of conducting plan evaluation. I give my special thanks to Ann Blalock, who introduced me to the politics of programs in the real world and who was a role model for navigating this terrain with grace and humor.

    As a new professor and beginning teacher, I benefited greatly from the support and help of other teachers of health program evaluation. I wish to thank Ronald Andersen, who taught health program evaluation at the University of Chicago (now at UCLA) for many years. He was an early role model and shared many insights about how to package course material in ways that could be grasped readily by graduate students. His evaluation course divided the evaluation process into three distinct phases, and I discovered early that his model also worked very well in my own evaluation courses. I also wish to thank Diane Martin and Rita Altamore, who taught this course at the University of Washington and shared their approaches in teaching this subject with me. I especially want to thank the speakers in my evaluation course for their insights about the practice of program evaluation: Tom Wickizer (design and conduct of program evaluation), Sharyne Shiu-Thornton (conducting evaluation in a cultural context), Beti Thompson (community-based program evaluation), Cynthia Curreri (use of evaluation results in decision making), and Dan Lessler and Nicole Urban (cost-effectiveness analysis). I also benefited greatly from “lessons learned” about evaluation through my work with other faculty—Michael Chapko, Douglas Conrad, Paula Diehr, Mary Durham, Louis Fiset, Peter Milgrom, Donald Patrick, and others at the University of Washington, as well as Don Dillman and John Tarnai at Washington State University.

    Several people played important roles in the production of this book. I wish to thank the W. K. Kellogg Foundation for its generous grant award, which created the time and opportunity for me to write this book. I also wish to thank everyone who provided comments on previous versions of this book. I especially want to thank the students in my health program evaluation class, particularly Letitia Reason and Henry Espinoza, for providing detailed comments for each chapter. Many thanks also are extended to the Sage reviewers. Their thoughtful comments significantly improved the quality of this textbook: Ronald Andersen, University of California, Los Angeles; Robin Lin Miller, University of Illinois at Chicago; William L. Miller, MD, Lehigh Valley Hospital, Allentown, Pennsylvania; Lynn Overman, University of Alabama at Birmingham; and Letitia Reason, University of Washington.

    I am extremely grateful for the patience and help that I received from my secretary, Alice Gronski, in producing the final manuscript. Her organizational skills and attention to detail were invaluable in completing the final manuscript. I also thank and acknowledge the efforts of Laura Hammond and Daniel Moore, who provided administrative support for producing earlier versions of the textbook.

    Finally, I thank my family, as well as my mother and father, and siblings Linda and Gary—for their patience, support, and encouragement in this effort.

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    Author Index

    About the Author

    David Grembowski, Ph.D., is a professor in the Department of Health Services, School of Public Health and Community Medicine, and the Department of Dental Public Health Sciences, School of Dentistry, at the University of Washington. He has taught health program evaluation to graduate students for more than 10 years. His evaluation interests are the performance of health programs and health care systems. He is conducting an evaluation of managed care and its influence on physician referrals and outcomes of care. He is also directing an evaluation examining associations between managed care, the patient-physician relationship, and health outcomes. His prevention studies have addressed the cost-effectiveness of preventive services for older adults, the effects of fluoridation on oral health and dental expenditures, and the effects of financial incentives on dentist adoption of preventive technologies. Other work includes the evaluation of a partnership program to boost access to dental care among Medicaid-covered preschool children and studies estimating the impact of insurance on the demand for dental care.

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