Monitoring surgical quality: the cumulative sum (CUSUM) approach

Nuria M. Novoa, Gonzalo Varela


Monitoring the quality of new or ongoing surgical activities is a necessity. Several Statistical Process Control (SPC) tools are available to professionals. Among them, Shewhart charts and cumulative sum charts (CUSUM charts) are useful methods to provide visual feedback before significant quality issues arise. In this paper, we discuss both methods based on our current approach. On Shewhart charts, one variable value is plotted on a time-series line. This method provides information about every single determination. Random variations of the values appear and by adjusting the adequate control limits it is possible to know whether those variations are random or out-of-control. Although large variations are easily detected, small but relevant changes are not. On the contrary, CUSUM charts have the capability of detecting small changes quickly. CUSUM is defined as a statistical tool that graphically represents the sequential monitoring of cumulative performance of any dichotomized or continuous variable under assessment. It emphasizes failures penalizing them against the correct performance when individual risk is adjusted. This makes CUSUM especially sensitive to negative changes. CUSUM can be created without the need of a specific sample size and grow with every new case included. Besides the variable under control (with specific definitions of acceptable and unacceptable outcomes), the type I and II errors for the defined parameter and the individual risk of acceptable or unacceptable outcomes must be included in the chart. Graphical representation of these three parameters is easy and intuitive to read making CUSUM graphs a reliable tool to understand the trending of the parameter under control. If performance is considered inadequate: analysis, discussion and implementation of agreed measures should be taken. Despite its limitations, CUSUM analysis is considered the best tool for quality control in health care domain.