What is clinical audit?
Clinical audit is a quality improvement process that seeks to improve patient care and outcomes. It involves the systematic critical review of medical care against explicit criteria and, areas of practice, where indicated, can be revised and enhanced. Clinical audit is a typically cyclical process, meaning that any audited area will undergo re-audit and monitoring to confirm improvements and highlight needs for potential further change.
Clinical audit can be carried out in a number of ways. It will involved a dedicated team to choose the topic, design the audit and carry it out (see Figure). In the design stage, the team will agree objectives and select the recommendations/standards from evidence-based national guidelines against which clinical practice will be evaluated.
Patient data may be gathered manually, using professional questionnaires, or patient computerised records. It may be collected prospectively (as care is delivered) or retrospectively (after treatment). Data is then analysed by the audit team to determine whether performance and patient outcomes meet the selected standards.
The results are presented and discussed and a plan of action is formed, specifying what needs to be done, how it will be done and who will operate these actions.
The Healthcare Quality Improvement Partnership (HQIP) is commissioned by the Department of Health to oversee the nation clinical audit programme and promote quality of healthcare in England and Wales.