Objectives: To assess the quality of specific information in electronic patient records and the consequences of sub-optimal data quality on automated information retrieval.
Methods: Patient records were evaluated with respect to accuracy of data relevant for retrieval according to a source-oriented, time-oriented and concept-oriented view of the record. Retrieval effectiveness was estimated using various methods based on record structure, text based retrieval and combinations of these.
Results: 98.1% of record documents were consistent regarding author, 99.8% regarding department of origin and 90.9% regarding document date. Document type was definitely not consistent in 8% of the documents. Estimated recall was 97% with 50% precision for document retrieval on the basis of date, and varying from 31 to 100% for retrieval based on document type. Retrieval based on manually supplied semantic tags performed better than simple string-based methods and improved when combined with string-matching mechanisms.
Conclusions: Data attributes central for automated document retrieval in electronic patient records showed variable accuracy, with potentially negative consequences for basic record navigation. Text-based retrieval was inferior to methods based on data representing record structure. Quality of specific information elements suffered from lack of precise definitions and adequate mechanisms for quality assurance.