Purposeful Incorporation of Patient Narratives in the Medical Record in the Netherlands

J Am Board Fam Med. 2021 Jul-Aug;34(4):709-723. doi: 10.3122/jabfm.2021.04.200609.


Introduction: Structuring patient and practice data into episodes formed the foundation of the earliest evidence base of family medicine. We aim to make patients' narratives part of the evidence base for family medicine by incorporating coded and structured information on the patient's reason to visit the family physician (FP) and adding the patient's personal and contextual characteristics to routine registration data. This documentation allows studies of relations between morbidity and elements of the patient story, providing more insight into the range of problems presented to primary care and in the patient-centeredness applied by FPs.

Methods: The Dutch Practice-Based Research Network (PBRN), named FaMe-Net, is the world's oldest PBRN. Seven Dutch family practices provide regular primary care and participate in the PBRN. It contains all morbidity data of the approximately 40,000 listed patients (308,000 patient-years and 2.2 million encounters from 2005 until 2019). All information belonging to 1 health problem is ordered in 1 episode. Morbidity (diagnoses), reasons for encounter (RFE), and interventions are coded according to the International Classification of Primary Care (ICPC-2). Registration occurs within the electronic health record (EHR), specially designed to facilitate the extensive registration for the PBRN. Since 2016, the network expanded routine registration with the duration of symptoms and coded personal and contextual characteristics (eg, country of birth, level of education, family history, traumatic events) obtained through the self-reported 'context survey' of listed patients. These data are added to the EHR. Registered data are extracted from the EHR and processed for scientific research.We present data on the differences in RFEs of the most prominent symptoms of COVID-19 between 2019 and 2020; the relation between the diagnosis of pneumonia and presentation of the symptom 'cough,' and how personal determinants influence the chances of final diagnoses. Lastly, we show the relation of self-reported abuse with patient's contact frequency and psychosocial problems.

Results: Prompt introduction of registration rules brought insight into COVID-19-related symptoms early in the pandemic. In March 2020, symptoms related to COVID-19 were presented more often than in March 2019. Chronic conditions and prevention showed a collapsing contact frequency. Telephone, email, and video consultations increased from 31% to 53%.Episodes of pneumonia most frequently started with the RFE 'cough.' A combination of 'cough' and 'fever' as RFE increases the likelihood of pneumonia, as does cough in the presence of comorbid COPD among older men. The prevalence of pneumonia is higher among patients with low socioeconomic status.

Discussion: The Dutch PBRN FaMe-Net has started to add elements of patients' narratives and context to decades of morbidity registration, creating options for a scientific approach to primary care's core values. Assumptions of 'pre/post chances' of the final diagnosis, already existing implicitly in FPs minds, can be elaborated and quantified by investigating the associations between multiple registered variables, including parts of patients' 'stories.' This way, we aim to make visible what is intuitively already known by FPs.

Keywords: Comorbidity; Epidemiology; Family Medicine; Longitudinal Research; Narrative Medicine; Primary Health Care; Social Determinants of Health.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • COVID-19*
  • Electronic Health Records
  • Episode of Care*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Netherlands
  • SARS-CoV-2