New research on the quality of care in public and private primary care facilities has significantly enriched our understanding of how health care is delivered in low- and middle-income countries. First, this article summarizes recent advances in the measurement of quality, distinguishing between measurements of provider knowledge and provider effort. Second, it looks at the determinants of practice quality variation in low-income settings, highlighting the limited role of structural constraints such as infrastructure, the supply of materials including drugs, and provider training—the mainstay of much of global health policy today. In contrast, practice quality variation is clearly linked to provider effort, an aspect of provider behavior that can be altered through a variety of means. Third, it provides a broad economic framework to interpret the findings. We look for evidence of specific market failures in the provision of primary care and emphasize that the key difficulty is (and always was) the transaction-specific nature of medical advice. Providers can do too much or too little (or both), and the extent of either depends on the specific patient and the specific disease. We document specific ways in which it is difficult for both consumers and governments to monitor every transaction to detect potentially errant behavior.


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