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I spent most of this weekend doing a special project. Our coding and compliance officers approached me about how some of our providers’ notes look in EHR. They had seen some notes that were “really awful” and naturally assumed that something was going on with the EHR to cause them to be that way.

Our ambulatory vendor offers checkbox-style documentation templates, so I figured the complaints were about how their documentation was being output now that we’re dealing with SNOMED and other factors.

I asked my team to pull a sampling of notes from each of our specialties so that I could look at them myself. We’ve seen issues where the behind-the-scenes verbiage engine generates some subject/verb disagreements. Additionally, when a large number of positive and negative symptoms are documented, sometimes that can get a little strange.

Since our analysts are not clinical, I know that I can’t exclusively use their review to identify good vs. bad notes. Sometimes the documentation might be technically accurate, but would actually be something a receiving physician would laugh at.

We have a lot of subspecialists who do a lot of procedures, so I had the team pull a variety of those notes as well. They’ve been problematic in the past, especially when multiple procedures are documented. Most of those issues have been easy fixes. Still, considering the variety of specialties and all the different kinds of documentation, I had well over 100 visit notes to review.

By the time I was done, I could barely contain my aggravation. The largest subset of “awful” notes came from our providers who are heavy users of voice recognition. Some of the notes were downright incoherent. The problem however wasn’t with the technology – it was with subspecialists dictating sheer nonsense that normal humans (even those with medical degrees) would have difficulty comprehending.

The next subset of bad notes came from providers who have created their own documentation macros. The idea of providers having their own saved text blocks is generally a good one. We all know that there are some parts of the note that are the same over and over again: “regular rate and rhythm, no murmurs, rubs, or gallops, lungs clear to auscultation bilaterally, abdomen soft non-tender and non-distended with normal active bowel sounds.” From years of dictation it just rolls off the tongue, so it would make sense to save it as a block for EHR.

The problem comes when providers save text that either doesn’t make sense or has gender-specific findings that winds up being reused on the opposite gender. The point of saved text is to be able to quickly add documentation with little work. Some of our providers take the idea of efficiency too far, with so many acronyms and abbreviations it’s impossible to figure out what is going on with the patient.

Even with the subject/verb disagreement and some of the typical template issues, the group that most heavily uses check-box powered documentation did the best. They were easy …read more    

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