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Research Article

Use and abuse of performance indicators.

BMJ 1988; 297 doi: (Published 12 November 1988) Cite this as: BMJ 1988;297:1256
  1. P. W. Skinner,
  2. D. Riley,
  3. E. M. Thomas
  1. Department of Trauma and Orthopaedics, King's College Hospital, Denmark Hill, London.


    An audit was performed by this department after allegations by the regional health authority of low productivity. It was found that the health authority had underestimated the number of operations performed in 1983 by only 5%, but an inexact classification and grading of operations had led to errors in the performance indicators of 19.8% for the "weighted number of operations" and 34.5% for the "number of major operations per consultant." When the throughput of orthopaedic departments in districts was compared by the regional health authority it was found that such errors in performance indicators had been further compounded by the inconsistent use of population data and incorrect data on medical staffing. Medical practitioners and the health authorities are alerted to this amplification of inaccurate data. Other methods for assessing trauma and orthopaedic surgery are proposed, such as a simplification of the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys classification of surgical operations, grading operations based on time spent in the operating theatre, and provision of computer programs to code for diagnosis and operation when writing discharge summaries.