Audit Scotland is to carry out a census in outpatient departments to get a snapshot of where problems arise and which systems are working well.

Managers are also to be given self-assessment packages designed to help review systems for managing outpatient clinics.

The steps were announced following publication of an Audit Scotland report last week, which concluded that poor information gathering could have a knock-on effect for patients. Mind the Gap showed inadequacies in the type and quality of the data recorded, both locally and nationally, and called for a comprehensive review of the outpatient system.

Auditor general for Scotland Robert Black said: 'If health service managers are not getting the information they need to compare their own performance with best practice, then it is more difficult to improve patient services.

For example, continuity of care is important for efficient and effective treatment of patients, yet no national data is available on key aspects, such as the availability or quality of previous case notes and test results to clinicians. In addition, data on what treatments are being used or their outcome is patchy and not always reliable.'

The report said there was good information on, for example, the length of time patients waited for an appointment as well as on non-attendance rates. But data that was collected was not always used to compare procedures and improve performance.

Audit Scotland director of performance audit Barbara Hurst said there was no information on the patient perspective, including whether clinics were being held at suitable times. Ms Hurst told HSJ that the census would take place early next year.