A mammoth health insurer is putting its clout behind an effort to set standards for doctors who treat patients outside the hospital.[@@]

UnitedHealth Group Inc., Minnetonka, Minn., a company that provides or administers health coverage for 55 million U.S. residents, says it will be making active use of new standards released last week by the Ambulatory Care Quality Alliance, a new coalition formed by provider groups, the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, and America’s Health Insurance Plans, Washington.

Collecting data based on widely accepted standards should help doctors improve the quality of their care and reduce the cost of complying with many different competing quality measurement programs, according to UnitedHealth executives.

The new set of standards covers topics such as screening for colon cancer, management of heart failure and use of prescription drugs in managing asthma, UnitedHealth says.