Introduction: Clinical audit has a central role in the NHS clinical governance agenda and the professional appraisal of medical practitioners in the UK. However, concerns have been raised about the poor design and impact of clinical audit studies and the ability of practitioners to apply audit methods. One method of making informed judgements on audit performance is by peer review. In the west of Scotland a voluntary peer review model has been open to general practitioners since 1999, while general practice trainees are compelled to participate as part of summative assessment. The study aimed to compare the outcomes of peer review for two methods of audit undertaken by different professional and academic groups of doctors.
Methods: Participants submitted a criterion audit or significant event analysis in standard formats for review by two informed general practitioners (GPs) using appropriate instruments. Peer review outcome data and the professional status of doctors participating were generated by computer search. Differences in proportions of those gaining a satisfactory peer review for each group were calculated.
Results: Of 1002 criterion audit submissions, 552 (55%) were judged to be satisfactory. GP registrars were significantly more likely than GP trainers (P < 0.001) and other established GP groups (P < 0.001) to gain a satisfactory peer review. GPs in non-training practices were less likely to achieve a satisfactory review than registrars (P < 0.001) and colleagues in training practices (P < 0.001). Of 883 SEA submissions, 541 (65%) were judged as satisfactory, with all groups gaining a similar proportion of satisfactory assessments, although GP registrars may have outperformed non-training practice GPs (P = 0.05).
Conclusion: A significant proportion of GPs may be unable to adequately apply audit methods, potentially raising serious questions about the effectiveness of clinical audit as a health care improvement policy in general medical practice.