Trend analysis is the ongoing review of data to detect legally or medically significant patterns. The technique may be applied to almost any type of data, but it is most when applied to data that should ordinarily follow a random or a constant distribution. Incident reports should normally follow these types of distribution; incidents should either be randomly distributed or show a constant low level of incidence. If a different pattern begins to emerge, such as an unusual number of falls in the surgical suites, it can be the result of a dangerous condition. For this reason, adverse trends have great quality control significance and should be investigated at once. The most reliable way to monitor trends is with a computer program that has been set up to detect them and to alert the administrators to their existence. This type of system can integrate data from different hospital committees to detect trends that cannot be seen by looking at only one set of data.
Trends may develop very quickly. A monthly review of data is too infrequent to deal with many types of hazards. The problem is best managed by setting up the computer to report observed trends directly to both the administrators and the appropriate review committees. This will limit the time that a dangerous condition may exist without investigation. The hazard of the usual delay in trend recognition has been well-illustrated in situations where an unknown person began to poison patients. In at least two facilities where this occurred, more than 5 persons were killed--an in one, 40 poisoned--before the problem was even detected. Proper trend analysis would have spotted this at an earlier point and perhaps even saved lives.
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