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Clinical audit made easy

BMJ 2006; 332 doi: (Published 01 January 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;332:060120
  1. Farah Janmohamed, final year medical student1,
  2. Laura J L Halpin1,
  3. Sanjay Patwardhan2
  1. 1Barts and the London Medical and Dental School
  2. 2Academic Department, Newham University Hospital, Barts & The London Medical & Dental School

Are clinical audits a mystery to you? This is your chance to learn the ropes, as Farah Janmohamed explains

According to the National Institute for Clinical Excellence, a clinical audit is “A quality improvement process that seeks to improve patient care and outcomes through systematic review of care against explicit criteria and the implementation of change.”1

Clinical audits measure the clinical practice of health professionals, such as doctors or nurses, and establishments, such as hospitals or general practices, against standards. Standards define acceptable levels of patient care and healthcare delivery, and seek to ensure that the best care is delivered. They play a fundamental role in audits, and you cannot have one without the other.

Every medical student should grasp the opportunity to carry out or become involved in an audit. Special study modules or firm placements allow you to study topics that interest you, and can be the perfect time to become involved.

As final year medical students, some colleagues and I set up our own audit during our special study modules' block, but unfortunately we could not find a concise and easy to follow guide to help us. After encountering numerous avoidable problems, we have learnt a great deal about the practicalities of designing and carrying out an audit, which we would like to share with you.

View this table:

Main differences between research and clinical audit

The difference between an audit and research?

“Research is concerned with discovering the right thing to do; audit with ensuring that it is done right.”2

You are likely to be asked at some stage, often at interviews, what the difference between an audit and research is. In simple terms, audits look at whether or not the right thing is being done, whereas research potentially discovers the right thing to do. The table summarises the main differences.

Figure 1 summarises …

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