Objective—To review the literature on the benefits and disadvantages of clinical and medical audit, and to assess the main facilitators and barriers to conducting the audit process.
Design—A comprehensive literature review was undertaken through a thorough review of Medline and CINAHL databases using the keywords of “audit”, “audit of audits”, and “evaluation of audits” and a handsearch of the indexes of relevant journals for key papers.
Results—Findings from 93 publications were reviewed. These ranged from single case studies of individual audit projects through retrospective reviews of departmental audit programmes to studies of interface projects between primary and secondary care. The studies reviewed incorporated the experiences of a wide variety of clinicians, from medical consultants to professionals allied to medicine and from those involved in unidisciplinary and multidisciplinary ventures. Perceived benefits of audit included improved communication among colleagues and other professional groups, improved patient care, increased professional satisfaction, and better administration. Some disadvantages of audit were perceived as diminished clinical ownership, fear of litigation, hierarchical and territorial suspicions, and professional isolation. The main barriers to clinical audit can be classified under five main headings. These are lack of resources, lack of expertise or advice in project design and analysis, problems between groups and group members, lack of an overall plan for audit, and organisational impediments. Key facilitating factors to audit were also identified: they included modern medical records systems, effective training, dedicated staff, protected time, structured programmes, and a shared dialogue between purchasers and providers.
Conclusions—Clinical audit can be a valuable assistance to any programme which aims to improve the quality of health care and its delivery. Yet without a coherent strategy aimed at nurturing effective audits, valuable opportunities will be lost. Paying careful attention to the professional attitudes highlighted in this review may help audit to deliver on some of its promise.
(Quality in Health Care 2000;9:23–36)
- facilitating factors
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