When people talk about clinical audit, most healthcare professionals immediately think of research. It is true that research and audit share similarities. They both involve answering specific questions which relate to the quality of care. They can both be carried out either prospectively or retrospectively. It is also true that both audit and research involve careful sampling, questionnaire design principles, and data collection and analysis. The truth is that there are more differences between them as they work towards different goals.
So, what is research, and what is clinical audit?
“a structured activity which is intended to provide new knowledge which is generalisable (i.e. of value to others in a similar situation) and intended for wider dissemination” (Department of Health, 2002)
‘ …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. Aspects of the structure, processes and outcomes of care are selected and systematically evaluated against explicit criteria. Where indicated, changes are implemented at an individual, team, or service level and further monitoring is used to confirm improvement in healthcare delivery. ‘ (Principles for Best Practice in Clinical Audit, NICE, 2002)
Did that help? If not, then here are a couple of simpler definitions put into context:
Clinical audit and research are similar in the following ways:
Ok, so now we know what research and clinical audit are, and what their similarities are; but what are the differences between them?
The following 12 points should help you decide if your project is clinical audit or if it is research:
One can’t survive without the other. To be completely effective research can’t survive without audit as we wouldn’t know whether best practice was being carried out, and audit can’t survive without research as without research we wouldn’t know what best practice was! Research identifies areas for clinical audit and clinical audit identifies areas for research.
Still can’t decide if your project is audit or research? Try answering honestly to the three questions below.
If you have answered yes to questions 1 and 2 and no to question 3, then it is fairly safe to say that you are thinking of doing a clinical audit. If you can’t then you are probably doing a form of research.
Our explanatory page is entirely drawn from an excellent guide written by The Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust. Grateful thanks to them for preparing such a clear description of the distinctions between audit and research.