Background: Accurate measures of health professionals' clinical practice are critically important to guide health policy decisions, as well as for professional self-evaluation and for research-based investigation of clinical practice and process of care. It is often not feasible or ethical to measure behaviour through direct observation, and rigorous behavioural measures are difficult and costly to use. The aim of this review was to identify the current evidence relating to the relationships between proxy measures and direct measures of clinical behaviour. In particular, the accuracy of medical record review, clinician self-reported and patient-reported behaviour was assessed relative to directly observed behaviour.
Methods: We searched: PsycINFO; MEDLINE; EMBASE; CINAHL; Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials; science/social science citation index; Current contents (social & behavioural med/clinical med); ISI conference proceedings; and Index to Theses.
Inclusion criteria: empirical, quantitative studies; and examining clinical behaviours. An independent, direct measure of behaviour (by standardised patient, other trained observer or by video/audio recording) was considered the 'gold standard' for comparison. Proxy measures of behaviour included: retrospective self-report; patient-report; or chart-review. All titles, abstracts, and full text articles retrieved by electronic searching were screened for inclusion and abstracted independently by two reviewers. Disagreements were resolved by discussion with a third reviewer where necessary.
Results: Fifteen reports originating from 11 studies met the inclusion criteria. The method of direct measurement was by standardised patient in six reports, trained observer in three reports, and audio/video recording in six reports. Multiple proxy measures of behaviour were compared in five of 15 reports. Only four of 15 reports used appropriate statistical methods to compare measures. Some direct measures failed to meet our validity criteria. The accuracy of patient report and chart review as proxy measures varied considerably across a wide range of clinical actions. The evidence for clinician self-report was inconclusive.
Conclusion: Valid measures of clinical behaviour are of fundamental importance to accurately identify gaps in care delivery, improve quality of care, and ultimately to improve patient care. However, the evidence base for three commonly used proxy measures of clinicians' behaviour is very limited. Further research is needed to better establish the methods of development, application, and analysis for a range of both direct and proxy measures of behaviour.