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Pilot Effort Improves EHR Documentation

Posted on February 9, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare branding and communications expert with more than 25 years of industry experience. and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also worked extensively healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or

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.

Ensuring Quality Throughout the Evolution of Clinical Documentation

Posted on October 14, 2015 I Written By

Erin Head is the Director of Health Information Management (HIM) and Quality for an acute care hospital in Titusville, FL. She is a renowned speaker on a variety of healthcare and social media topics and currently serves as CCHIIM Commissioner for AHIMA. She is heavily involved in many HIM and HIT initiatives such as information governance, health data analytics, and ICD-10 advocacy. She is active on social media on Twitter @ErinHead_HIM and LinkedIn. Subscribe to Erin's latest HIM Scene posts here.

Throughout my HIM career, I have seen many different methods of capturing clinical documentation. We are always looking for solutions to get accurate and complete clinical documentation into the medical record in a timely manner with minimal disruption to the provision of care. The processes for gathering documentation have evolved with advances in technology and HIM professionals have been very involved in ensuring the quality of the documentation.

When I first began working in an HIM department, we had a Transcription department with hospital-employed transcriptionists and a management team devoted to medical transcription. Quality reviews were performed regularly and the transcriptionists had an ongoing relationship with the physicians to provide feedback and get clarifications. As part of this department, there were file clerks in charge of filing the transcribed documents onto the paper medical records throughout the day and into the night. When I think back on these practices, it seems like an entirely different lifetime from today’s practices yet it really wasn’t that long ago.

Over time, transcriptionists began to disappear from hospitals as the task became outsourced. Vendors have offered to do the job for less cost and they guaranteed a high quality rating of the transcribed reports. However, transcribed reports often still come back to the medical record with blanks and anomalies that must be corrected by the dictating clinician which can delay the documentation reaching the chart. It’s important to review documents to make sure there are no obvious errors that may have been misinterpreted by the transcriptionist or the back-end speech recognition system.

Many are still relying on outsourced transcription as a major source of capturing documentation but this is evolving as EHRs have created new opportunities for documentation. EHRs provide documentation tools such as templates to import data into the notes and allow for partial dictation for the narrative description. The negative side of this is that copy and paste is used frequently due to the ease of grabbing documentation from the rest of the EHR and pasting it into the note to save time. Clinicians using copy and paste may not realize that the information could be outdated or it could be against company policies. This now requires quality reviews to monitor the use of copy and paste and the relevance of the documentation to maintain the integrity of the medical record. This should be incorporated into chart audits or other quality review processes.

Front-end speech recognition tools are popping up frequently as an additional tool to capture documentation. A concern with this is the shift from having quality reviews performed by the transcriptionist to now relying on the clinicians to edit their documentation as they dictate. Many are creating positions in HIM departments to perform quality reviews on the documentation to not only ensure the documentation is in the record in the adequate timeframe but making sure the documentation is accurate for each patient. It will be interesting to see how clinical documentation continues to evolve as new methods of capturing documentation are developed and deployed. No matter how the information gets into the medical record, HIM professionals still have the ultimate responsibility to ensure the quality of the documentation for patient care and appropriate reimbursement.

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