Benchmarking Standards and Nurse Empowerment

Clinical benchmarking is a “systematic process in which current practice and care are compared to, and amended to attain, best practice and care” (DH, 2010b).
Benchmarking is a system that provides a structured approach for realistic and supportive practice development. It allows practitioners to identify and compare best practice.

Nursing staff go to work every day determined that each patient or client will receive the best possible care. The health service runs on limited resources – public money which has to be intelligently used. There is little time and no justification for unnecessary repetition of effort in identifying and implementing what is best practice. It is vital to all – staff and patients – that professionals truly collaborate.

Clinical practice benchmarking is a quality improvement tool. It facilitates, structures and formalises how best practice is compared, shared and developed. It supports nurses in effectively meeting patients’ needs. Involvement in clinical practice benchmarking and the opportunity to share good practice rewards those who are willing to share.

How benchmarking developed?

The concept of benchmarking was adopted from industry, where it had been used as a structured approach to quality measurement and improving services since the late 1970s. This process was competitive, with businesses striving to meet or surpass the best performer.

Benchmarking was first introduced to the NHS at the launch of the Benchmarking Club, sponsored by the NHS Management Executive, in January 1991. The club focused on benchmarking organisational issues rather than clinical ones, covering issues such as reducing cancelled operations or the number of non-attenders in outpatient clinics.

From a review of benchmarking literature it is easy to conclude that benchmarking:

  • Identifies strengths and weaknesses within organisations
  • Identifies the level of performance possible by looking at the performance of others, and how much improvement can be achieved
  • Promotes changes and delivers improvements in quality, productivity and efficiency
  • Helps to better satisfy the customers’ need for quality, cost, product and service by establishing new standards and goals

In a health care setting, patients and their families are our customers. It is vital that we engage, empower, and hear patients and carers at all times in order to place the quality of patient care, and patient safety, above all other aims.

Why benchmark clinical practice?

Benchmarking can particularly help when it becomes difficult to further improve a ward or unit’s services without looking beyond an individual organisation or trust.
The advantages of benchmarking include:

  • Providing a systematic approach to the assessment of practice
  • Promoting reflective practice
  • Providing an avenue for change in clinical practice
  • Ensuring pockets of innovative practice are not wasted
  • Reducing repetition of effort and resources
  • Reducing fragmentation/geographical variations in care
  • Facilitating multidisciplinary team building and networking

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