Objective: To determine how accurately preventive care reported in the medical record reflects actual physician practice or competence.
Design: Scoring criteria based on national guidelines were developed for 7 separate items of preventive care. The preventive care provided by randomly selected physicians was measured prospectively for each of the 7 items. Three measurement methods were used for comparison: (1) the abstracted medical record from a standardized patient (SP) visit; (2) explicit reports of physician practice during those visits from the SPs, who were actors trained to present undetected as patients; and (3) physician responses to written case scenarios (vignettes) identical to the SP presentations.
Setting: The general medicine primary care clinics of two university-afflliated VA medical centers.
Participants: Twenty randomly selected physicians (10 at each site) from among eligible second- and third-year general internal medicine residents and attending physicians.
Measurements and main results: Physicians saw 160 SPs (8 cases x 20 physicians). We calculated the percentage of visits in which each prevention item was recorded in the chart, determined the marginal percentage improvement of SP checklists and vignettes over chart abstraction alone, and compared the three methods using an analysis-of-variance model. We found that chart abstraction underestimated overall prevention compliance by 16% (P < .01) compared with SP checklists. Chart abstraction scores were lower than SP checklists for all seven items and lower than vignettes for four items. The marginal percentage improvement of SP checklists and vignettes to performance as measured by chart abstraction was significant for all seven prevention items and raised the overall prevention scores from 46% to 72% (P < .0001).
Conclusions: These data indicate that physicians perform more preventive care than they report in the medical record. Thus, benchmarks of preventive care by individual physicians and institutions that rely solely on the medical record may be misleading, at best.