Original Research

Template Design and Analysis: Integrating Informatics Solutions to Improve Clinical Documentation

Author and Disclosure Information

Background: Electronic health record templates have served a variety of functions, such as improving documentation for reliable reporting of health care outcomes. Standardizing template documentation has been important for accurately capturing case workload and supporting quality improvement initiatives.

Methods: North Florida/South Georgia Veterans Health System consists of 2 Florida-based hospitals: Malcom Randall Veterans Affairs Medical Center (MRVAMC) in Gainesville, and Lake City Veterans Affairs Medical Center (LCVAMC). In the first quarter of fiscal year 2017, MRVAMC and LCVAMC had a below-average case severity index (CSI) of 0.76 and 0.81, respectively, compared with that of the 0.96 national average for the Veterans Health Administration (VHA). An innovative history and physical template design with embedded informatics tools was created to improve clinical documentation.

Results: Compliance with standardized history and physical medicine template use was monitored for about 1 year after standardized template implementation. Compliance improved from 43.2% in June 2018 to 89.9% in June 2019 at MRVAMC and increased from 48.2% in June 2018 to 96.9% in June 2019 at LCVAMC. CSI improved to 0.97 at MRVAMC and 1.07 at LCVAMC in the first quarter of fiscal year 2019, which exceeded the VHA national average of 0.89 during the same period.

Conclusions: NF/SGVHS integrated informatics solutions within template design was associated with an increase in CSI via improved clinical documentation.



Standardized template design is a useful tool to improve clinical documentation and reliable reporting of health care outcomes when constructed with clear objectives and with collaboration of key stakeholders. A standardized template should not only capture accurate diagnostic information, but also inform quality improvement (QI) measures and best practices.

Kang and colleagues showed that a correlation exists between organizational satisfaction and improved quality outcomes. 1 A new initiative should have a well-defined purpose reinforced by collaborative workgroups and engaged employees who understand their clinical care role with electronic health record (EHR) modifications.

Several studies have shown how the usefulness of templates achieve multipurpose goals, such as accurate documentation and improved care. Valluru and colleagues showed a significant increase in vaccination rates for patients with inflammatory bowel disease after implementing a standardized template. 2 By using a standardized template, Thaker and colleagues showed improved documentation regarding obesity and increased nutritional and physical activity counseling. 3 Furthermore, Grogan and colleagues showed that templates are useful for house staff education on International Classification of Diseases (ICD) terminology and demonstrated improved documentation in the postintervention group. 4,5

This article discusses the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) North Florida/South Georgia Veterans Health System (NF/SGVHS) integrated informatics solutions within template design in the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) EHR system that was associated with an increase in its case severity index (CSI) through improved clinical documentation capture.


According to policy activities that constitute research at NF/SGVHS, institutional review board approval was not required as this work met the criteria for operational improvement activities exempt from ethics review.

NF/SGVHS includes 2 hospitals: Malcom Randall VA Medical Center (MRVAMC) in Gainesville, Florida, and Lake City VA Medical Center (LCVAMC) in Lake City, Florida. MRVAMC is a large, 1a, academic VA facility composed of rotating residents and fellows and includes multiple specialty care services. LCVAMC is a smaller, nonteaching facility.

Template Design Impact

CSI is a risk-adjusted formula developed by the Inpatient Evaluation Center within VHA. CSI is incorporated into the VHA quality metrics reporting system, Strategic Analytics for Improvement and Learning (SAIL). CSI risk-adjusts metrics such as length of stay and mortality before releasing SAIL reports. CSI is calculated separately for acute level of care (LOC) and for the intensive care unit (ICU). In fiscal year (FY) 2017, acute LOC preimplementation data for CSI at NF/SGVHS were 0.76 for MRVAMC and 0.81 for LCVAMC, which was significantly below the national VHA average of 0.96 (Table).

A below-average CSI conveys a less complicated case mix compared with most other VA facilities. Although smaller VA facilities may have a less complicated case mix, it is unusual for large, tertiary care 1a VA facilities to have a low CSI. This low CSI is usually due to inadequate documentation, which affects not only risk-adjusted quality metrics outcomes, but also potential reimbursement. 6

An interdisciplinary team composed of attendings, residents, and a clinical document improvement specialist identified the below-average acute LOC CSI for MRVAMC and LCVAMC compared with that of the national VHA average. Further analysis by chart reviews showed inconsistencies with standardized documentation despite prior health care provider education on ICD terminology and specific groups of common comorbidities analyzed in administrative data reviews for risk-adjustment purposes, known as Elixhauser comorbidities. 5,7


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