Use of an electronic problem list by primary care providers and specialists

J Gen Intern Med. 2012 Aug;27(8):968-73. doi: 10.1007/s11606-012-2033-5. Epub 2012 Mar 17.


Background: Accurate patient problem lists are valuable tools for improving the quality of care, enabling clinical decision support, and facilitating research and quality measurement. However, problem lists are frequently inaccurate and out-of-date and use varies widely across providers.

Objective: Our goal was to assess provider use of an electronic problem list and identify differences in usage between medical specialties.

Design: Chart review of a random sample of 100,000 patients who had received care in the past two years at a Boston-based academic medical center.

Participants: Counts were collected of all notes and problems added for each patient from 1/1/2002 to 4/30/2010. For each entry, the recording provider and the clinic in which the entry was recorded was collected. We used the Healthcare Provider Taxonomy Code Set to categorize each clinic by specialty.

Main measures: We analyzed the problem list use across specialties, controlling for note volume as a proxy for visits.

Key results: A total of 2,264,051 notes and 158,105 problems were recorded in the electronic medical record for this population during the study period. Primary care providers added 82.3% of all problems, despite writing only 40.4% of all notes. Of all patients, 49.1% had an assigned primary care provider (PCP) affiliated with the hospital; patients with a PCP had an average of 4.7 documented problems compared to 1.5 problems for patients without a PCP.

Conclusions: Primary care providers were responsible for the majority of problem documentation; surgical and medical specialists and subspecialists recorded a disproportionately small number of problems on the problem list.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Electronic Health Records* / standards
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Physicians, Primary Care* / standards
  • Primary Health Care / methods*
  • Primary Health Care / standards
  • Problem Solving*
  • Specialization* / standards