Background: A run chart is a line graph of a measure plotted over time with the median as a horizontal line. The main purpose of the run chart is to identify process improvement or degradation, which may be detected by statistical tests for non-random patterns in the data sequence.
Methods: We studied the sensitivity to shifts and linear drifts in simulated processes using the shift, crossings and trend rules for detecting non-random variation in run charts.
Results: The shift and crossings rules are effective in detecting shifts and drifts in process centre over time while keeping the false signal rate constant around 5% and independent of the number of data points in the chart. The trend rule is virtually useless for detection of linear drift over time, the purpose it was intended for.