Program evaluation is often overlooked. However, program evaluation results can be critical in your management decisions about whether to fund or end a program. Evaluations can justify a program by showing the number of patients, families, and staff reached, the positive impact of the program on patients and staff, the cost-effectiveness and safety of the program, and external recognition of program value. Evaluations can also identify areas that may need improvement, leading to beneficial changes for the program.
The evaluation of an AAI program goes hand-in-hand with program development, implementation, and maintenance. In establishing a new program, goals should be identified, resources assessed, and processes and procedures pilot tested, evaluated, and revised as needed to improve the program for a particular facility. Once the AAI program is developed and implemented, evaluation activities should continue in order to provide important feedback regarding the value and effectiveness of the AAI program. Such information is critical for health care administrators in making decisions about continuing or revising the program and in making funding decisions.
Program evaluation is similar to empirical research and often uses some of the same methods; however, their purposes differ. Basic research aims to generate new knowledge or add to existing knowledge, typically by studying relationships among variables and/or determining cause-and-effect relationships. For example, research may explore the causes of cardiovascular disease or the relationship between obesity and diabetes. Applied research seeks to solve practical problems, such as improving access to health care or treating a specific disease. Evaluation aims to determine the worth or merit of a program. Evaluations describe programs and systematically collect information on which to base judgements regarding program effectiveness and the feasibility of programs. Ideally, evaluation takes place over the life of the program, from initially assessing the need for and feasibility of the program, to pilot and field testing procedures, to measuring program outcomes.
Evaluators may be internal to the program (a member of the AAI program staff) or external (a member of the health care facility staff or another external professional). External evaluators will need to work closely with program staff to understand the AAI program mission/aims, goals, procedures, and intended outcomes. Since most AAI programs are relatively small with limited resources, this chapter assumes evaluators will be internal and is written for evaluators familiar with the AAI program.