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Statistical Process Control for Healthcare

Power BI certified charts helping decision-makers monitor and visualise the impact of changes to processes in healthcare.

We know that the healthcare industry requires strict analytical tools when implementing improvements in processes. However, measuring the impact of improvements over time can be challenging.

Statistical Process Control (SPC) has been adopted by the healthcare industry as an effective process improvement tool. SPC charts help healthcare professionals identify inefficiencies in processes that would benefit from change, and give individuals access at the board, ward, and team level, to complete data sets that inform effective decision making.

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What is Statistical Process Control?

Statistical Process Control is the use of statistical techniques to identify improvements that can be made to processes. Statistical Process Control tools plot data over time, to help professionals visualise variation in data. From that, users are guided to the best course of action to standardise the variation.

Statistical Process Control is an effective improvement tool as it enables users to easily see whether an implemented change has resulted in improvements. By employing SPC software rules to data, healthcare professionals are able to tailor SPC charts to the specific process they are measuring.

Understanding SPC Charts for Healthcare

The Institute of Healthcare Improvement (IHI) views SPC as a key component for quality improvement and SPC has been adopted by numerous NHS trusts, within their Quality Improvement Programmes.

Statistical Process Control charts can be broken down into two main chart types; Run and Control charts.

Run Charts 

Also known as ‘Trend charts’ or ‘Time Series charts’, Run charts are line charts of data, plotted over time with rules applied to identify if a process is stable. By continually plotting data, run charts effectively uncover trends in a process or system. Run charts shows a measurement on the y-axis, plotted over time on the x-axis, where a centre line (CL) is generally drawn at the median. A ‘run’ is when one or more consecutive data points fall on the same side of the median. Statistically significant changes are signaled by too few or too many runs.

 

Control Charts 

Sometimes referred to as the ‘Shewhart chart’, the control chart is more advanced than run charts. The chart still depicts a single line of data, however they have an Upper Control Limit (UCL) and Lower Control Limit (LCL) feature, enabling professionals to decipher between common (normal) and special cause variations in data.

The central line in a control chart is generally the mean of the measurements (rather than the median seen in run charts). Control charts have their own set of rules for identifying special causes which are commonly different from the rules applied to run charts.

 

Understanding Variation in SPC Charts

There are two types of variation that may be present in the data that is visualised in an SPC chart. These are common cause and special cause variation. 

Common Cause Variation 

Common cause variations are causes that are inherent in a system over time. Common cause variations fall within the control limit (within the UCL and LCL) of a control chart and show that a process is stable. An example of common cause variations would be unclear standard procedures resulting in longer patient waiting times. 

Special Cause Variation 

Special cause variations are causes that are not part of the process or production methods but arise due to specific circumstances. Special cause variations are the assignable causes of variation in a process and the focus of process improvements. An example being a machine malfunctioning causing an error in prescription medication. 

How can Statistical Process Control Improve Quality in Healthcare?

Statistical Process Control can be used in a variety of settings within the healthcare industry, such as measuring infection rates, staff sickness or inpatient waiting times. So long as a process or system has measurable outputs, SPC can be applied.

SPC charts are used in the healthcare industry when professionals input data in time order and see the impact of changes in processes on the charts data.

For example, if an NHS trust wants to measure infection rates in the hospital and notice a spike in special cause variations in the data, they can assign the variation to an inefficiency or bad practice that is taking place i.e. nurses failing to wash their hands. If the trust then creates a process whereby nurses have to wash their hands on a regular basis, they can see whether that process implementation has had the desired effect on infection rates over time.

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Why Choose BCN Group?

BCN Group are in the unique position of being one of only a handful of SPC Software providers in the UK. With our experience in Statistical Process Control, industry-leading expertise, and our own, in-house-built SPC chart software, we can provide your organisation with the skills, knowledge, and services you need.

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