Children with rare or life-limiting chronic conditions and their families are at high risk of psychosocial distress. However, despite its impact on patient and family health and functioning, psychosocial distress and its antecedents may not routinely be captured in medical records. The purpose of this study was to characterize current medical record documentation practices around psychosocial distress among children with rare or life-limiting chronic conditions and their families. Medical records for patients with rare or life-limiting chronic conditions (n = 60) followed by a pediatric complex care program were reviewed. Study team members extracted both structured data elements (e.g., diagnoses, demographic information) and note narratives from the most recent visit with a clinician in the program. Psychosocial topics were analyzed using a mixed quantitative (i.e., frequency counts of topics) and qualitative approach. Topics related to psychosocial distress that were documented in notes included child and parent emotional problems, parent social support, sibling emotional or physical problems, family structure (e.g., whether parents were together), and financial concerns. However, 35% of notes lacked any mention of psychosocial concerns. Although examples of psychosocial concerns were included in some notes, none were present in over one-third of this sample. For both patients with rare or life-limiting chronic conditions and their caregivers, more active elicitation and standard documentation of psychosocial concerns may improve the ability of healthcare providers to identify and intervene on psychosocial concerns and their risk factors.
Keywords: complex chronic conditions; pediatrics; psychosocial distress; rare diseases.