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Position Statements

Medical record documentation

 Categories:  Medical Records   Adopted: May 1994  | Amended: Jul 2017  Print Friendly Version  |   Share this item

The North Carolina Medical Board takes the position that an accurate, current and complete medical record is an essential component of patient care. Licensees should maintain a medical record for each patient to whom they provide care. The medical record should contain an appropriate history and physical examination, results of ancillary studies, diagnoses, and any plan for treatment. The medical record should be legible. When the care giver does not handwrite legibly, notes should be dictated, transcribed, reviewed, and signed within a reasonable time. The Board recognizes and encourages the trend towards the use of electronic medical records (“EMR”). However, the Board cautions against relying upon software that pre-populates particular fields in the EMR without updating those fields in order to create a medical record that accurately reflects the elements delineated in this Position Statement.

The medical record is a chronological document that:

• records pertinent facts about an individual’s health and wellness;
• enables the treating care provider to plan and evaluate treatments or interventions;
• enhances communication between professionals, assuring the patient optimum continuity of care;
• assists both patient and physician to communicate to third party participants;
• allows the physician to develop an ongoing quality assurance program;
• provides a legal document to verify the delivery of care; and
• is available as a source of clinical data for research and education.

The following required elements should be present in all medical records:

1. The record reflects the purpose of each patient encounter and appropriate information about the patient’s history and examination, and the care and treatment provided are described.
2. The patient’s past medical history is easily identified and includes serious accidents, operations, significant illnesses and other appropriate information.
3. Medication and other significant allergies, or a statement of their absence, are prominently noted in the record.
4. When appropriate, informed consent obtained from the patient is clearly documented.
5. All entries are dated.

The following additional elements reflect commonly accepted standards for medical record documentation.

1. Each page in the medical record contains the patient’s name or ID number.
2. Personal biographical information such as home address, employer, marital status, and all telephone numbers, including home, work, and mobile phone numbers.
3. All entries in the medical record contain the author’s identification. Author identification may be a handwritten signature, initials, or a unique electronic identifier.
4. All drug therapies are listed, including dosage instructions and, when appropriate, indication of refill limits. Prescriptions refilled by phone should be recorded.
5. Encounter notes should include appropriate arrangements and specified times for follow-up care.
6. All consultation, laboratory and imaging reports should be entered into the patient’s record, reviewed, and the review documented by the practitioner who ordered them. Abnormal reports should be noted in the record, along with corresponding follow-up plans and actions taken.
7. An appropriate immunization record is evident and kept up to date.
8. Appropriate preventive screening and services are offered in accordance with the accepted practice guidelines.

Electronic Health Records

The promise and potential of information technology in health care, particularly the use of electronic health records (EHR), presents providers with distinct challenges. While the Board encourages the adoption and appropriate use of various forms of EHR there are some unique aspects and problems that have been repeatedly encountered by the Board, some of which are discussed below. This subsection does not identify all of the issues and problems encountered by providers using EHR. Rather it is meant to identify issues which the Board has repeatedly found to be problematic in malpractice cases and complaints coming to the Board’s attention. It is important to recognize that this, and other Board position statements, are not comprehensive and do not describe exhaustively every standard that might apply in every circumstance. Basic, well-established principles of medical record documentation, as outlined above, apply to all forms of medical record documentation, including EHR.

The following guidelines are offered to assist licensees in meeting their ethical and legal obligations:

EHR Deficiencies. Providers, on occasion, attribute errors or lack of follow-up, such as missed or lost abnormal laboratory results or x-ray reports, to deficiencies in their EHR. This is not acceptable. Providers must be aware of the idiosyncrasies and weaknesses of the EHR system they are using and adjust their practice accordingly. Providers are ultimately responsible for the adequate oversight and monitoring of the EHR.
Responsibility of Licensees. EHR are becoming increasing sophisticated and may provide flags for follow-up care or other clinical decision-making support, such as health maintenance recommendations. While an EHR system may assist in the clinical decision-making process, it is not responsible for decision making. For example, it is not acceptable to blame an EHR because it failed to recommend particular testing. Increasingly elaborate documentation, clinical management, and productivity tools may also result in increased opportunities for errors or omissions. These errors are a failure of the provider to assume appropriate responsibility for the care of the patient. In the end, decision-making responsibility rests solely with the provider; regardless of the information or notices provided by the EHR.
Use of Templates. The Board cautions against overuse of template content or reliance on EHR software which pre-populates, carries forward, or clones information from one encounter to the next, or from different providers, without the provider carefully reviewing and updating all information. Documentation of clinical findings for each patient encounter must accurately and contemporaneously reflect the actual care provided.
Availability of, or Access to, Medical Records. Physicians must be able to provide patient medical records in a timely manner for various situations, such as consultations, transfer of care to another provider, or practice closure. The Board has encountered situations where providers were unable to access their patients’ medical records due to fee or other disputes with the EHR vendor. This is particularly true when the medical records are maintained off site (cloud storage). Providers must understand provisions of their contract with the EHR vendor in this regard. These principles of medical record access apply as well to telemedicine providers.
Breakdown of Patient-Provider Communication. Misunderstandings and miscommunications between patients, patient family members, practitioners, and office staff generate a substantial percentage of complaints received by the Board. Many EHR systems allow direct patient-provider communication (i.e. “patient portal”). While this form of communication can facilitate communication, such as follow-up of lab or x-ray results or medication refills, they also place a responsibility on the provider to provide timely responses to legitimate requests from patients for feedback or information.