Though EHRs were intended to improve medical documentation, in many cases they seem to have made documentation quality worse. Despite their best intentions, bogged-down physicians may resort to practices — notably excessive copy-and-paste usage — that turn patient records into bloated, unfocused data masses that don’t help their peers much.
However, a pilot program conducted by a group of academic medical centers suggests using a set of best practice guidelines and templates for progress notes can improve note quality dramatically. The pilot involved intern physicians on inpatient internal medicine rotations at UCLA, the University of California San Francisco, the University of California San Diego and the University of Iowa.
According to a related story in HealthData Management, researchers rated the quality of the notes created by the participating interns using a competency questionnaire, a general impression score and the validated Physician Documentation Quality Instrument 9-item version (PDQI-9).
The researchers behind the study, which was published in the Journal of Hospital Medicine, found that the interns’ documentation quality improved substantially over the course of the pilot. “Significant improvements were seen in the general impression score, all domains of the PDQI-9, and multiple competency items, including documentation of only relevant data, discussion of a discharge plan, and being concise while adequately complete,” the authors reported. Even better, researchers said notes generated by the participating interns had about 25% fewer lines and were signed 1.3 hours earlier in the day on average.
One side note: despite the encouragement provided by the pilot, the extent to which interns used templates varied dramatically between institutions. For example, 92% of interns at UCSF used the templates, compared to 90% at UCLA, 79% at Iowa and only 21% at UCSD. Nonetheless, UCSD intern notes still seemed to improve during the study period, the research report concluded. (All four institutions were using an Epic EHR.)
It’s hard to tell how generalizable these results are. After all, it’s one thing to try and train interns in a certain manner, and another entirely to try and bring experienced clinicians into the fold. It’s just common sense that physicians in training are more likely to absorb guidance on how they should document care than active clinicians with existing habits in place. And unfortunately, to make a real dent in documentation improvement we’ll need to bring those experienced clinicians on board with schemes such as this.
Regardless, it’s certainly a good idea to look at ways to standardize documentation improvement. Let’s hope more research and experimentation in this area is underway.