BACKGROUND: Intensification of pharmacotherapy in persons with poorly controlled chronic conditions has been proposed as a clinically meaningful process measure of quality. OBJECTIVE: To validate measures of treatment intensification by evaluating their associations with subsequent control in hypertension, hyperlipidemia, and diabetes mellitus across 35 medical facility populations in Kaiser Permanente, Northern California. DESIGN: Hierarchical analyses of associations of improvements in facility-level treatment intensification rates from 2001 to 2003 with patient-level risk factor levels at the end of 2003. PATIENTS: Members (515,072 and 626,130; age >20 years) with hypertension, hyperlipidemia, and/or diabetes mellitus in 2001 and 2003, respectively. MEASUREMENTS: Treatment intensification for each risk factor defined as an increase in number of drug classes prescribed, of dosage for at least 1 drug, or switching to a drug from another class within 3 months of observed poor risk factor control. RESULTS: Facility-level improvements in treatment intensification rates between 2001 and 2003 were strongly associated with greater likelihood of being in control at the end of 2003 (P < or = 0.05 for each risk factor) after adjustment for patient- and facility-level covariates. Compared with facility rankings based solely on control, addition of percentages of poorly controlled patients who received treatment intensification changed 2003 rankings substantially: 14%, 51%, and 29% of the facilities changed ranks by 5 or more positions for hypertension, hyperlipidemia, and diabetes, respectively. CONCLUSIONS: Treatment intensification is tightly linked to improved control. Thus, it deserves consideration as a process measure for motivating quality improvement and possibly for measuring clinical performance.