Stage 4 students, congratulations on finishing one of the toughest exams in your Med School life! The two-week holiday seems too short for a break after such a long, tough, and trying semester… Haaaaaaaa… You can barely breathe a sigh of relief however, as another “problem” crops up – SSC 1. What is the best topic of choice for your Clinical Audit, and not fall into the Research “trap”?!

Unless you are eager to do a research (your dream/ambition/goal), and is very confident about completing it in just 6-12 weeks, by all means please do it. Nothing is impossible. The majority however, chooses to do a Clinical Audit for their SSC 1. So, in this article I will give you some quick tips on how to differentiate between a Clinical Audit and Research.

The Origin of Audit

The word Audit is borrowed from Economics, and in that context it means examination of records to check their accuracy. In 2002, National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) published the first manual of Clinical Audit and defined it as “Clinical Audit is 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”.

In fact, one of the first clinical audits was carried out by Florence Nightingale during the Crimean War of 1853-1855. Using a methodical approach (a compilation of coxcombs), she recorded mortality rates among the hospital patients, then making changes to decrease a mortality rate of 40% all the way down to 2%! To do this SSC 1 well, you should understand why you are doing a Clinical Audit and what benefit it brings to better healthcare practice. Take the task seriously, – not just for the sake of completing an assignment, – and you’ll be surprised at the contribution you would’ve made in the end! 

Clinical Audit or Research

A Clinical Audit answers the question “Are we following the agreed best practice?”, i.e. it measures current practice against a defined standard. It forms part of Clinical Governance, with an aim of safeguarding a high standard of clinical care for patients. A Research answers the question “What is best practice?”, i.e. discovering new knowledge about which treatment works better in a given clinical situation.

Here is a comprehensive table of the similarities and differences of Clinical Audit and Research:

Be careful of how you define your SSC Topic/Title! If you are unsure, just ask for help (supervisor, tutor, peer parent, friend, cat, dog, coffee, TNT…). It is worth having a Plan B, but the best suggestion is to get it right in the first place. If you are checking in with your best friend (Google), be creative with your search keywords. Hope this is helpful and good luck on kicking off your project!

1. Clinical Audit in Primary Care: From Evidence to Practice.
2. Audit and Audit Cycle.

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