Feared and often misused, the word standardization sometimes causes confusion in the health care setting. By definition, it applies to any process used to develop and implement metrics that specify essential characteristics of something whose control and uniformity are desired.
In this sense, standardization may apply to almost anything; rules, technologies, services, commercial products, behaviors, and measurements. A common goal of standardization is to reduce what is known as practice variations. By this, I mean how medical acts might be misused; either overused, underused, improperly used, harmfully used, or unsafely used.
In the COVID age, critical examples of standardization are patient and health care worker safety protocols such as the implementing universal precautions to prevent disease spread or using personal protective equipment and hand hygiene properly to prevent health-care-associated infections. When practices such as these are standardized, lives are saved, and accidents are prevented.
Studies demonstrate that standardization improves the portability of expertise, irrespective of the country, the facility, or the health care professionals implementing protocols. But some people resist standardization, not because they dislike being told what to do or how to do it, but because they disagree with the idea of using such methods to incite behavior modification.
Persons of authority can help by teaching and reinforcing the benefits of standardization, which are five-fold. Standardization can (1) simplify or clarify a specific task, process, responsibility, or activity; (2) improve efficiency and diminish the possibility of errors or doing something incompletely; (3) increase productivity, performance, controllability, and consistency; (4) free up time and energy for other tasks; and (5) improve the quality of patient care, customer service, and morale.
We can also facilitate the universal adoption of standardized safety practices by attaching them to metrics and rewards. After all, everyone likes to know they did a good job.
- Schwartz JS. The role of professional medical societies in reducing practice variations. Health affairs 1984.3:2. 90-101. Downloaded from HealthAffairs.org on November 16, 2020.
- Lehmann CU and Miller MR. Standardization and the practice of medicine. Journal of Perinatology (2004) 24, 135–136. doi:10.1038/sj.jp.7211060.