Using statistical process control to make data-based clinical decisions

J Appl Behav Anal. 1995 Fall;28(3):349-70. doi: 10.1901/jaba.1995.28-349.


Applied behavior analysis is based on an investigation of variability due to interrelationships among antecedents, behavior, and consequences. This permits testable hypotheses about the causes of behavior as well as for the course of treatment to be evaluated empirically. Such information provides corrective feedback for making data-based clinical decisions. This paper considers how a different approach to the analysis of variability based on the writings of Walter Shewart and W. Edwards Deming in the area of industrial quality control helps to achieve similar objectives. Statistical process control (SPC) was developed to implement a process of continual product improvement while achieving compliance with production standards and other requirements for promoting customer satisfaction. SPC involves the use of simple statistical tools, such as histograms and control charts, as well as problem-solving techniques, such as flow charts, cause-and-effect diagrams, and Pareto charts, to implement Deming's management philosophy. These data-analytic procedures can be incorporated into a human service organization to help to achieve its stated objectives in a manner that leads to continuous improvement in the functioning of the clients who are its customers. Examples are provided to illustrate how SPC procedures can be used to analyze behavioral data. Issues related to the application of these tools for making data-based clinical decisions and for creating an organizational climate that promotes their routine use in applied settings are also considered.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Behavior Therapy / methods*
  • Consumer Behavior*
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intellectual Disability / psychology
  • Intellectual Disability / therapy
  • Pica / psychology
  • Pica / therapy
  • Quality Assurance, Health Care*
  • Restraint, Physical / psychology
  • Self-Injurious Behavior / psychology
  • Self-Injurious Behavior / therapy
  • Treatment Outcome