Outcome Measures - a measure of the result of a system, relative to the aim. An outcome measure is used to measure the success of a system. For example, the outcome measure could be the percentage of people who do not get polio. An output measure, for example, would be the number of people vaccinated with the polio vaccine. Often management focuses on output measures which do not tell you about the success but rather are a measure of activity. Care should be taken to define good outcome measures to use in determining the success of programs and in determining the whether improvement projects result in improved outcomes.
Examples of outcome measures: literacy rate, infant mortality rate, days without an accident on a job site, students finding a job they want (for a university), tomato yield from a tomato plant, on time arrival at destination, percentage of the population who can see (for a measure of the success of a program to eliminate preventable blindness).
So as an example, the total amount of dollars spent to eliminate polio in the United States would represent an activity measure (how much money was committed to the activity). An in-process measure could be (looking at various regions of the country possibly) a measure what percentage of potential vaccinations that were wasted (spoiled, lost...). Another in-process measure example could be the cost per vaccination (say $30 million dollars for to run the whole program which results in 15 million vaccinations). From this example, an outcome measure could be the reduction of polio in the population (for example, .5% of the population was newly diagnosed with polio and in the first year and the next year it was .3% and then .1%...).
An update on the polio example from a Worldwide perspective, the World Health Organization: "targeted the year 2000 to complete the polio eradication plan. This was not achieved due to vaccine shortages, wars, and logistical problems in Africa and the Indian subcontinent. Nevertheless, polio will be eliminated from 190 countries by the end of this year, and WHO is optimistic that it will achieve global eradication by the new target date of 2005." Posted 6/9/2000 on the Johns Hopkins Infectious Diseases web site. And a site dedicated to continuously updated statistics: polio eradication.org.