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As your company works toward quality certification, internal audit forms can ease the way. Using them to accurately document your progress will eliminate backtracking and keep your accreditation goals in sight. Use the following 10 tips to get your internal audit forms in shape.


Format carefully: Keep the format consistent throughout each form, and make each form similar. This will help your staff auditors fill out forms correctly and know what to expect with new forms. Use at least a 10-point font; no one likes squinting at tiny six-point text. Fit everything on one page, or use one double-sided sheet that will save space and be easier to photocopy than two stapled pages.

 Insert the path of the document as a footer. Scan any forms that aren't saved on a computer. If you don't have a scanner, you might want to think about buying one: It's a worthwhile investment, considering the time it takes to re-create complex forms.


Avoid redundancy: Users should enter information only once. For example, forms that require users to write their names on both sides waste time and space. Repeating questions also tires users and increases the likelihood that they won't give complete answers.


Request specifics: Ask specific questions based on your compliance standards that will help your internal auditors achieve your quality goals, but also offer "other" as an option. Don't think that any form is comprehensive. Suppose you're auditing personnel files with a checklist form, marking off errors, and you come across a photocopy of an outdated driver's license--something you'd never have imagined would be placed in a personnel file. This error could be noted under "other errors."

 On the other hand, if you notice that users constantly use "other' instead of checking off the appropriate specific items, you need to retrain them on what "other" means and when it should be used.


Name forms accurately: Use a logical title that describes the form or its use. If you were to read "Insurance Audit Tool" at the top of a form, how would you know whether it referred to the employee's personal liability insurance, health insurance benefits or corporate liability files? Although the benefits of sensible titling may seem obvious, many good audit forms are improperly used simply because no one knows their intended use.

 Use terms in ways that make filing and organizing forms easy. For example, call a form "Safety Training Checklist" (so it will be filed under "safety") instead of "Training Checklist: Safety."


 Use inclusive language: Create forms that have several applications, and offer check boxes at the top to indicate which application is intended. For example, at a distribution center, you could offer one form to audit the personnel files of order pickers, packers, checkers, shippers and loaders. The loaders may require proof of forklift training, and the checkers proof of a computer-training course, but most of the employees have very similar requirements. When requirements don't apply to some employees, use an "N/A" (not applicable) box. Inclusive language will help you decrease paperwork.


Provide references: Most forms will require names, dates, titles, signatures and so on; however, forms should also refer to your standards by number or letter. For example, a home health care company striving for compliance to Joint Commission of Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO) standards can list the audit questions to correspond with the JCAHO requirements.

 If your audit form refers to different legal or compliance requirements, indicate which is which with a symbol for each.


Use suggestions: Accept suggestions from form users; in fact, solicit them. The more that people feel like they have contributed, the more willingly they will use the form.


Put questions in a logical order: Put the most important and the most often used items at top and the least appropriate, seldom-used items at the bottom. Your auditors will appreciate this consideration.


Use standard rulings: This is especially important if you use the raw data gathered by an internal audit to make progress charts. (Most quality accreditations require proof of progress toward measurable goals.) At one Colorado-based company, the first three audit questions asked for yes/no responses, the next five used a scale of 1-10 and the last two had fill-in-the-blanks. It was difficult to chart this relatively small amount of data on one chart because each measurement was based on a different ideal: 50 percent (yes/no), 10-point scales and subjective answers.


Ask objective questions: If you base your questions closely upon the accreditation standards, objectivity shouldn't be difficult. However, if you notice that it's difficult to answer the audit questions because there are so many ways to "see it," you should hone them to be more objective. Internal audits should be easy enough for nearly anyone to complete, not just those familiar with your industry.


 Internal audits help many companies reach their quality accreditation goals. With some assistance from good forms, you will find the journey toward accreditation shorter and less arduous.


About the author

 Deborah J. Myers serves on several quality assurance teams and the forms committee of a health care company in Colorado. The teams' primary concern is maintaining a high level of customer and employee satisfaction by sustaining excellent patient care and a working environment meeting or exceeding JCAHO, OSHA and ADA regulations as well as the company's own code of ethics. Myers has written and revised numerous quality-checking forms related to ISO 9000 and JCAHO certification for several companies and has also written two employment policy books for small businesses. E-mail her at dmyers@qualitydigest.com .


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