Undocumented patient information: an impediment to quality of care

Am J Med. 2003 Feb 15;114(3):211-6. doi: 10.1016/s0002-9343(02)01481-x.


Purpose: Poor documentation in medical records might reduce the quality of care and undermine analyses based on retrospective chart reviews. We assessed the documentation of cardiac risk factors and cardiac history in the records of patients hospitalized with myocardial infarction or heart failure.

Methods: We performed a retrospective cohort study involving direct chart audit of all consecutive hospitalizations for myocardial infarction (n = 2,109) or heart failure (n = 3,392) in Nova Scotia, Canada, from October 15, 1997, to October 14, 1998. The main outcome measures were the documentation rates for prespecified clinical items, including cardiac risk factors and history of myocardial infarction or heart failure, which were recognized as indicators of the quality of care for the conditions under study.

Results: Information was not documented in a high proportion of cases, ranging from 9% (smoking) to 58% (previous history of heart failure) in charts from patients hospitalized for myocardial infarction, and from 19% (smoking) to 69% (hyperlipidemia) in charts from heart failure hospitalizations. Lack of documentation was more common in women and the elderly.

Conclusion: Documentation of important clinical information is poor even in the hospital charts of patients with severe conditions. This quality-of-care issue has implications for health services and outcomes research, including the development of report cards.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cohort Studies
  • Documentation / standards*
  • Female
  • Heart Failure / epidemiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medical Errors / statistics & numerical data
  • Medical History Taking / standards
  • Medical Records / standards*
  • Middle Aged
  • Myocardial Infarction / epidemiology*
  • Nova Scotia / epidemiology
  • Quality Assurance, Health Care / standards*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Factors