What is a Clinical Audit?

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  • Written By: A. Leverkuhn
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 11 September 2019
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A clinical audit is a system for improving the quality of health care. It is not a financial audit, but rather, a kind of observation of medical care in a specific system, a review of practices and standards that lead to better patient outcomes. A clinical audit could be seen as being related to the overall “standard of care” used to ensure quality in a healthcare system.

Forms of the clinical audit have been adopted in many countries and regions of the world. Many different terms may apply to this general process, but the idea of implementing better quality in healthcare through modern oversight and observation processes is common to many national health systems. In the United Kingdom, for instance, the idea of a “clinical audit” is a key part of the country’s National Health System.

Items included in clinical auditing could relate to overall hygiene in a facility. Other criteria might include enumerating procedures, considering methods for treatments, or looking for incidents of surgical or pharmaceutical error. Analysts might also refer to additional demographics like a mortality or morbidity rate along with clinical audit data.


Several different types of clinical auditing frameworks provide different ways to measure quality of healthcare. One is a “standards-based audit” where a standard of care is put forward as an applicable benchmark. Another is an “adverse occurrence audit” where analysts look specifically at rates of problematic mistakes or negative outcomes. Hospitals and other facilities can also pursue “medical market research” through tools like patient surveys or focus groups.

Clinical audit processes often include multiple steps that are designed to effectively address problems. One initial step might have to do with identifying a health problem or negative outcome. An additional step might be to contrast that outcome with rates in a variety of healthcare systems. A final step often relates to implement changes for more positive outcomes.

Outside observers can tell a lot about a facility's health care policy by analyzing its clinical audit systems. The way that governments regulate health care reflects on the basic policy of public health and safety, and shows how forward-thinking regulation can improve patient outcomes, and overall quality of life in a given system. Much of the analytical process around items like the clinical audit is based on the ability of modern technology to easily catalog and work with large amounts of data. This kind of measurement of demographic situations is likely to remain a vital part of top-level review of safety for healthcare, as well as many other types of systems, such as manufacturing.


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