Objectives Hospital board members are asked to consider large amounts of quality and safety data with a duty to act on signals of poor performance. However, in order to do so it is necessary to distinguish signals from noise (chance). This article investigates whether data in English National Health Service (NHS) acute care hospital board papers are presented in a way that helps board members consider the role of chance in their decisions.
Methods Thirty English NHS trusts were selected at random and their board papers retrieved. Charts depicting quality and safety were identified. Categorical discriminations were then performed to document the methods used to present quality and safety data in board papers, with particular attention given to whether and how the charts depicted the role of chance, that is, by including control lines or error bars.
Results Thirty board papers, containing a total of 1488 charts, were sampled. Only 88 (6%) of these charts depicted the role of chance, and only 17 of the 30 board papers included any charts depicting the role of chance. Of the 88 charts that attempted to represent the role of chance, 16 included error bars and 72 included control lines. Only 6 (8%) of the 72 control charts indicated where the control lines had been set (eg, 2 vs 3 SDs).
Conclusions Hospital board members are expected to consider large amounts of information. Control charts can help board members distinguish signals from noise, but often boards are not using them. We discuss demand-side and supply-side barriers that could be overcome to increase use of control charts in healthcare.
- Control charts, run charts
- Decision making
- Statistical process control
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Correction notice This article has been updated since it first published Online First. Figure 3 has been updated.
Contributors RJL was the project's inspiration. He obtained the grant and guided the project throughout. KAS was the chief front-line researcher who gathered and organised the data, and drafted and amended the manuscript. AJP contributed to the manuscripts with respect to the theoretical basis underlying and practical use issues regarding control charts. JC collaboratively reviewed the charts with KAS. N-BK helped develop the manuscripts inclusion of the many types of control charts that may be used in healthcare settings. IV helped develop the paper in the final stages.
Funding The project was supported by West Midlands Academic Health Science Network (AHSN) and the National Institute for Health and Research (NIHR) under the Collaborations for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care (CLAHRC) programme, North West London and West Midlands.
Disclaimer The paper presents independent research, and the views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the AHSN. This article presents independent research commissioned by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) under the Collaborations for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care (CLAHRC) programme, North West London and West Midlands. The views expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NHS, the NIHR or the Department of Health.
Competing interests None declared.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.