P>Standards describe the desirable and achievable level of performance that can be expected, and are typically presented as structure, process, or outcome standards. Structure standards outline the essential supports and resources necessary to provide safe and adequate care, process standards define the activities consistent with appropriate care, and outcome standards describe a desired patient response to the care provided. While process standards depend in part upon structure standards, outcome standards depend upon both structure and process standards to attain desired responses. For example, examining standards related to infection control in intensive care, a structure standard might state that a sink for hand-washing be available in each patient room. The ability to achieve a process standard such as hand-washing after contact with each patient will depend, in part, upon the structure standard being met. An outcome standard, such as no horizontal transmission of bacteria, requires that both the structure and process standards be achieved.

Standards should be identified prior to developing policies or practice parameters, to establish clearly the goals and purpose for any directives. Most professional bodies have begun to create standards for practice; thus the development of unit-specific standards should be consistent with those set by licensing boards or accrediting bodies.

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