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5/21/2001

Know When to Stop Collecting Data

Kate Traynor

Data sampling need not be exhaustive to yield information than can help guide quality-improvement programs, says the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI).

Although it is very important to gather and analyze an adequate amount of information before starting a quality-improvement program, IHI cautions organizations not to get bogged down in data collection. Instead of collecting all the data possible, organizations should stop as soon as they have gathered enough information to detect something important, advises IHI.

To illustrate its point, IHI describes a project conducted with the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto, Ontario. Sunnybrook staff members launched a data-collection project to find out the age distribution of the more than 400 patients treated for asthma at the center during a 12-month period. When several weeks passed and the information systems department had not generated its report, a physician manually reviewed three months' worth of patients’ charts to gather data on asthma visits.

The result? The physician’s findings gave staff members preliminary information on which to base changes to a quality-improvement program. And the physician’s findings agreed well with the report that was eventually produced by the information systems department, even though the physician obtained data on fewer than 100 patients.

In this particular case, says IHI, there was no benefit gained from waiting for the official data analysis instead of using good judgment based on a solid analysis of a smaller but adequate patient sample.