StATS: Auditing for data entry errors (June 20, 2006). Category: Data management

There was an interesting query on the MedStats list about the appropriate sample size for an audit. This person had entered 1,500 records and wanted to check a sample of those records for data entry errors. There was not enough time to perform double entry or to check 100% of the records. So how many records should be checked?

There are some rough rules of thumb that say that you should spend about 5% to 10% of your research budget on quality control efforts, so that might justify taking 75-150 records and searching for errors.

A more formal approach would be to specify the maximum error rate (P) that you are willing to tolerate. Then sample 3/P records. If you find any errors, check all of your data. If you find no errors then you are 95% confident that the error rate is less than P. 

So for example, if you are willing to tolerate up to a 2% error rate, then sample 3/0.02=150 records. If you notice one or more errors, then you may have an unacceptably high error rate and you need to check the entire data set. 

This method is based on the famous "rule of three".

The person who posted the original query pointed out that sometimes the formulas I describe will lead to a sample size larger than the population size. That is indeed true. If the sample size computed by this simple formula is more than 10% of the total sample size, you should apply the finite population correction factor.

It has to applied iteratively. With a sample of 150 patients, you are right on the borderline, so applying the fpc will reduce the number of files that you have to audit from 150 to 143. If the original sample size was 600, then the fpc reduces the audit size to 492.

If the estimated sample size becomes about as large or larger than the population size, you might consider a 100% audit. The fpc might reduce you to 90% or even 80% of the total sample size, but when the audit size becomes this large you might a well audit everybody.

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