To the Editor: Dr. Venkat1 was spot on when he identified the need for electronic medical records to communicate and educate, rather than document. Short and actionable notes are best. But with the focus on billing and compliance, annotated, informative assessments are actually discouraged. Our billing and coding department performs periodic chart audits and considers the note “out of compliance” if there is a difference between the list of free text assessments and the International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Revision (ICD-9) codes chosen. Therefore, many physicians just use the billing codes as their assessment and skip the free text assessment section of a SOAP (subjective-objective-assessment-plan) note, which means the notes convey even less of what the physician is thinking. A classic example is the note of a patient whom I knew had pernio, yet the assessment blandly reported “circulatory disorder.” The plan likewise is often reduced to the imported structured text of the tests and medications ordered rather than a rich discussion of the differential diagnosis and medical reasoning.
Imagine the notes we might write if their primary purpose was communication to ourselves and the others involved in our patients’ care. Imagine if the notes made us more knowledgeable about the uniqueness of this particular patient and also contributed to a continuous learning environment. More meaning, less filler. The notes would be shorter and sweeter, as Dr. Venkat suggested.