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Why measure?

Mr William Malcolm explains the importance of measurement in healthcare
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So why am I now standing in front of a statue of Lord Kelvin in Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Park in the shadow of Glasgow University where Lord Kelvin spent his academic career? Lord Kelvin was a famous mathematician and physicist. He was involved in doing work to establish the first but most importantly the second law of thermodynamics. He was a pioneer in telegraph cabling. He patented over 50 inventions and published over 600 scientific papers during his life. But he’s perhaps best remembered for having the absolute temperature scale, the Kelvin scale, named in his honour. His body now lies in Westminster Abbey. On one side lies Isaac Newton. On the other side, Charles Darwin, a man of some considerable genius.
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But why am I standing here today? It’s more than 100 years since Kelvin died. Kelvin died before Sir Alexander Fleming made to his miraculous discovery of penicillin. Well, I’m standing here today because central to all of Kelvin’s achievements– and he knew this– was the importance of measurement. Lord Kelvin said, “To measure is to know.” So what Kelvin means here, I think, is that how can we possibly know something unless we measure it. How can we possibly know about antibiotic prescribing unless we measure it? On the subject of the importance of measurement, Kelvin went further. He said, “When you can measure something and express it in numbers, you know something about it.
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But when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind.” But I think his most important quote in relation to measurement is where Kelvin says, “If you cannot measure it, you cannot improve it.” And this principle that you need to understand the baseline, the point from which you are starting, in order to know if you are improving things is now a fundamental part of improvement of quality improvement science.
Measurement is central to all of our lives. We measure things all the time.
Have you ever thought am I gaining or losing weight? Have I enough space for this new desk that I would like? Is my child growing in height? And you can only answer such questions by measuring something: your weight; the size of the desk; the height of your child.
One dictionary definition of measurement is the act or process of ascertaining the extent, dimensions, or quantity of something.
So in the context of measurement of antibiotic use within stewardship programmes, watch this video clip where William Malcolm discusses why this is important.
Please note the clip is shown here by kind permission of the University of Dundee (UoD) and was first used in the UoD and BSAC course Antimicrobial Stewardship: Managing Antibiotic Resistance which is also available on FutureLearn.
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