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Statistical issues in the prospective monitoring of health outcomes across multiple units

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Following several recent inquiries in the UK into medical malpractice and failures to deliver appropriate standards of health care, there is pressure to introduce formal monitoring of performance outcomes routinely throughout the National Health Service. Statistical process control (SPC) charts have been widely used to monitor medical outcomes in a variety of contexts and have been specifically advocated for use in clinical governance. However, previous applications of SPC charts in medical monitoring have focused on surveillance of a single process over time. We consider some of the methodological and practical aspects that surround the routine surveillance of health outcomes and, in particular, we focus on two important methodological issues that arise when attempting to extend SPC charts to monitor outcomes at more than one unit simultaneously (where a unit could be, for example, a surgeon, general practitioner or hospital): the need to acknowledge the inevitable between-unit variation in ‘acceptable’ performance outcomes due to the net effect of many small unmeasured sources of variation (e.g. unmeasured case mix and data errors) and the problem of multiple testing over units as well as time. We address the former by using quasi-likelihood estimates of overdispersion, and the latter by using recently developed methods based on estimation of false discovery rates. We present an application of our approach to annual monitoring ‘all-cause’ mortality data between 1995 and 2000 from 169 National Health Service hospital trusts in England and Wales.

Keywords: Clinical governance; False discovery rates; Hospital episode statistics; Overdispersion; Routine surveillance; Statistical process control charts

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1Imperial College London, UK

Publication date: August 1, 2004


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