As the training of medical students and residents increasingly moves to ambulatory care settings, clerkship and program directors must find a way to use their limited resources to guide the development and evaluation of the quality of these ambulatory-based learning experiences. To evaluate quality, directors must first define, in operational and measurable terms, what is meant by the term 'quality' as it is applied to ambulatory-based education. Using educational theories and the definition of quality used by health care systems, the authors propose an operational definition of quality for guiding the planning, implementation, and evaluation of ambulatory care educational programs. They assert that quality is achieved through the interaction of an optimal learning environment, defined educational goals and positive outcomes, participant satisfaction, and cost-effectiveness. By describing the components of quality along with examples of measurable indicators, the authors provide a foundation for the evaluation and improvement of instructional innovations in ambulatory care education for the benefit of teachers, learners, and patients.
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