The input is the basic information on which the manager must base decisions. In the truck driver example, the input to the dock attendant is the direction and speed of the truck. This information is used to project the position of the truck at the dock. In a record-oriented environment, such as that of a hospital, managers will seldom witness the actual events they must manage. These managers must depend upon written reports and statistical compilations as the raw material for their managerial decisions. The first step in evaluating their working environment and performance is to ensure that the reports they receive are complete and accurate.
Managers must deal with two types of written input. The first is "raw" data, the factual descriptions of events. The second is "analyzed" data (discussed in detail in the following section). It must be stressed that analyzed data cannot be judged without recourse to the raw data that were analyzed. The verification of analyzed data is a two-step process. The manager must first examine the "raw" data for completeness and accuracy, and then examine the techniques used to evaluate the data to determine if they were appropriate for the data in question and if they were properly applied.
There are three criteria for evaluating raw data: (1) Are they in the proper form? (2) Are the complete? and (3) Are they accurate? The form of the data refers to both their physical presentation of their units.
The first step in evaluating the format of raw data is to determine if the data are in the simplest form that conveys the necessary information. This means removing all unnecessary details from the data report. For example, a risk manager might be interested in whether x-rays were taken as a result of a patient received as a result of the incident. To analyze the data on x-rays, the risk manager must read each report, determine if x-rays were taken, and then tabulate the data. In this case, it would be much simpler if the incident report form contained a simple yes or no question about whether x-rays were taken.
Data collection forms should be designed with a clear understanding of the information required to make necessary decisions. If possible, data collection forms should have questions that can be answered yes or no, with a multiple choice answer, or with a number. Free -text answers should be avoided whenever possible; when they are necessary, they should be limited to requests for specific, well-defined information. Unexpected comments in free-text answers not only complicate data analysis, they can also create legal problems if the incident report is discovered during litigation.
Once a proper data collection form has been designed, the manager must determine if it is being used correctly and completely. This means that each form must be filled out as completely as possible and that every event under study must be documented. The risk manager must ensure that every incident is documented. This requires that the penalty for covering up an incident must be greater than the penalty for causing the incident and that the penalty must apply to everyone with knowledge of the incident.
Ensuring the accuracy of raw data is a difficult task. It requires that the manager investigate the actual events described by the data. This may involve interviews with patients and staff members and a review of the patients' medical records. While this process is very time-consuming, it is the only way to verify the accuracy of the raw data. Since this cannot be done on very many reports, scientific techniques should be used to select a proper sample of reports for investigation.
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