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This is a plain English summary of an original research article. The views expressed are those of the author(s) and reviewer(s) at the time of publication.

This NIHR-funded study found that enhanced continuous monitoring and feedback was associated with an improvement in the performance of anaesthetists. A detailed monthly report contained data about outcomes, such as nausea, pain and discomfort, for individual patients. Anaesthetists received data by subspecialty and this included details of unusual cases, comparative data across patients and anaesthetists and long-term data on trends, where available.

The study also gathered information about the impact on quality of this continuous feedback and the anaesthetists’ experiences of its implementation. Data about the effectiveness informs whether to implement continuous feedback or not. The information about people’s experiences helps maximise the chances of successful implementation. This study did not compare the outcomes or cost of continuous monitoring and feedback against the current approach of intermittent focussed audits, so it is unclear whether continuous monitoring and feedback is superior to other methods of quality improvement.

Why was this study needed?

Monitoring the quality of care is important for NHS Trusts as they try to maintain and improve the quality of care delivered. The Care Quality Commission assesses them on this. Publishing performance data helps the public make informed decisions about which healthcare provider they want to choose. Anaesthetists also need to understand their performance in detail to make improvements, especially when undergoing professional revalidation.

Anaesthetists interact with patients before their operations, but generally have little follow-up with them afterwards. Immediately after surgery, patients may experience nausea, pain and discomfort, all of which may be affected by the quality of care provided by the anaesthetist. Currently anaesthetists receive little routine feedback on patient outcomes; instead, feedback usually comes from larger audits undertaken from time to time. The NIHR funded this study to evaluate the impact of continuous monitoring and feedback on patient outcomes and productivity, and on staff experiences of implementing the programme.

What did this study do?

The IMPAQT study evaluated two programmes of continuous monitoring and feedback in the post-anaesthetic care unit (recovery room) in 50,235 cases performed by 44 anaesthetists. The basic feedback included monthly personal data summaries with some long-term follow-up information. The enhanced feedback included individual case data, data across specialties and long-term follow-up information. Interviews with 24 consultant anaesthetists, six surgical nursing leads and five perioperative service leads provided views on how the feedback programme was implemented. Surveys were run at the start of the study, after 12 months and around 27 months into the study to collect perceptions of current quality indicators, the value of feedback in quality improvement and attitudes to quality improvement.

What did it find?

  • The basic feedback programme had little impact on patient outcomes. The enhanced feedback programme had a positive impact on patient temperature, quality of recovery, postoperative pain and postoperative nausea. These changes were the same regardless of the patients’ age, gender or disease severity.
  • Only three of the eight wards studied had a significant improvement in ward waiting time - the time between the ward being informed that the patient was ready for discharge from the recovery room and them arriving on the ward. The interviews suggested that broader organisational and infrastructure changes would be required to impact on ward waiting time.
  • Clinicians felt that it was important to collect indicators that are locally relevant and possible to interpret clinically. For example, considering the different characteristics of patients being put to sleep was seen as important when comparing anaesthetists’ performance side-by-side.
  • There was also a need to translate quality performance data into usable, actionable information at departmental and individual level.
  • Anaesthetists clearly identified a role for this quality improvement initiative in their revalidation. Connecting the quality improvement initiative with their appraisal and revalidation appeared to increase anaesthetists’ levels of engagement.
  • Following the implementation of the feedback programme, perceptions of the effectiveness of quality monitoring and quality indicators improved.

What does current guidance say on this issue?

The Royal College of Anaesthetists has produced a guide to undertaking audits for continuous quality improvement. The publication covers different aspects of quality improvement, including how to choose and measure your outcomes, ensuring that audits lead to changes in practice and disseminating your findings. It also contains a number of “recipes” for different types of audits that can be undertaken.

What are the implications?

The IMPAQT study indicates that enhanced continuous monitoring and feedback can improve the quality of care delivered by anaesthetists. The use of mixed methods provides data on the effectiveness of the programme and on the experience of implementing it. This will enable people to learn from that experience and plan the implementation to maximise the chance of successful implementation. Monthly feedback of personal data summarised in table form was not effective.

It is not clear whether continuous feedback delivers a greater improvement in outcomes compared with the traditional “discontinuous” audit process. The implementation and on-going cost of each approach was not evaluated. Without such cost-benefit analysis it is not possible to say whether continuous monitoring and feedback should be implemented more widely.


Benn J, Arnold G, D’Lima D, et al. Evaluation of a continuous monitoring and feedback initiative to improve quality of anaesthetic care: a mixed-methods quasi-experimental study. Health Serv Deliv Res.2015;3(32).

This project was funded by the National Institute for Health Research Health Services and Delivery Research programme.


Produced by the University of Southampton and Bazian on behalf of NIHR through the NIHR Dissemination Centre


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