What Is a Clinical Evaluation?

Kenneth W. Michael Wills

A clinical evaluation is the processes and procedures carried out to assess a healthcare professional’s competence in the application of his or her area of expertise in a clinical environment. There are a variety of methods deployed by healthcare administrators and professionals to evaluate other healthcare professionals or themselves, along with a broad range of tools utilized to aid in the process. The purpose of clinical evaluation is to determine the level of competence the healthcare professional exhibits in his or her field and to identify areas for improvement. Usually, clinical evaluations are ongoing, beginning during school and continuing throughout the professional’s career to varying degrees.

Competency in the practice of healthcare is crucial for patient care and safety.
Competency in the practice of healthcare is crucial for patient care and safety.

Methods most often utilized in clinical evaluation include recording critical incidents, conducting observations and case studies, keeping journals and even implementing self-evaluations methods. Observation is often a key method deployed wherein a senior mentor is assigned to the healthcare professional to observe his or her practice and advise on areas of improvement. While making use of observation, critical incidents will focus specifically on a professional’s behavior in a given situation. Particularly, the behaviors most concerning are those with a major impact on outcomes. Closely monitoring these behaviors, mentors will document the incident and associated reactions to help the professionals better understand his or her actions taken and focus on areas of improvement.

A clinical evaluation may assess a doctor's competence in a clinical environment.
A clinical evaluation may assess a doctor's competence in a clinical environment.

Competence in the practice of healthcare, whether for a doctor, a nurse or even a nurse’s aid, is crucial for patient care and safety. As such, clinical evaluation is typically an ongoing process not just carried out by peers or mentors, but also used by many healthcare professionals to gauge their own competence and achieve improvement. Most often for self-evaluation, health professionals will keep journals, write case studies on specific situations, and use a variety of self-evaluation techniques to aid in the process. Those techniques often include using video recorders to capture his or her actions in practice for later analysis, while making use of scales to track and rate performance.

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Consistent and continued clinical evaluation, whether carried out through self-evaluation or at the direction of an authority, is meant to increase the performance of both the healthcare professional and the entire healthcare organization. Total competency is often assessed to include the behaviors attributable to and outcomes of tasks as well as the professional’s approach to ethics and values that impact a particular competency. Overall, the process is meant to drive healthcare performance, but will sometimes inevitably identify incompetence and eliminate it to include relieving healthcare professionals in some cases.

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