Background: There are no empirically-grounded criteria or tools to define or benchmark the quality of outpatient clinical documentation. Outpatient clinical notes document care, communicate treatment plans and support patient safety, medical education, medico-legal investigations and reimbursement. Accurately describing and assessing quality of clinical documentation is a necessary improvement in an increasingly team-based healthcare delivery system. In this paper we describe the quality of outpatient clinical notes from the perspective of multiple stakeholders.
Methods: Using purposeful sampling for maximum diversity, we conducted focus groups and individual interviews with clinicians, nursing and ancillary staff, patients, and healthcare administrators at six federal health care facilities between 2009 and 2011. All sessions were audio-recorded, transcribed and qualitatively analyzed using open, axial and selective coding.
Results: The 163 participants included 61 clinicians, 52 nurse/ancillary staff, 31 patients and 19 administrative staff. Three organizing themes emerged: 1) characteristics of quality in clinical notes, 2) desired elements within the clinical notes and 3) system supports to improve the quality of clinical notes. We identified 11 codes to describe characteristics of clinical notes, 20 codes to describe desired elements in quality clinical notes and 11 codes to describe clinical system elements that support quality when writing clinical notes. While there was substantial overlap between the aspects of quality described by the four stakeholder groups, only clinicians and administrators identified ease of translation into billing codes as an important characteristic of a quality note. Only patients rated prioritization of their medical problems as an aspect of quality. Nurses included care and education delivered to the patient, information added by the patient, interdisciplinary information, and infection alerts as important content.
Conclusions: Perspectives of these four stakeholder groups provide a comprehensive description of quality in outpatient clinical documentation. The resulting description of characteristics and content necessary for quality notes provides a research-based foundation for assessing the quality of clinical documentation in outpatient health care settings.