Patterns of Misrepresentation of Clinical Findings on Patient Notes During the COMLEX-USA Level 2-PE

Jeanne M. Sandella, DO; Larissa A. Smith, PhD; Laurie A. Gallagher, DO; and Erik E. Langenau, DO
Notes and Affiliations
Notes and Affiliations

Received: April 1, 2013

Accepted: August 1, 2013

Published: January 1, 2014

J Osteopath Med; 114(1): 22-29

Context: A health care team depends on the accurate documentation of the patient-physician encounter, be it written or electronic. If documentation is inaccurate or incomplete, patient care may be adversely affected. Previous studies have identified factors that influence documentation errors, such as fatigue, carelessness, and being overworked. More research, however, is needed into the patterns of errors and, by extension, these patterns’ potential effect on patient care. Insights about these areas would be valuable to practicing physicians, as well as to medical educators, who could incorporate such insights into the training of medical students.

Objectives: To identify potential patterns of commissive documentation errors on SOAP notes during the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination-USA Level 2-Performance Evaluation (COMLEX-USA Level 2-PE); specifically, to calculate the frequency with which specific items are misrepresented in SOAP (subjective, objective, assessment, plan) notes and to explore patterns of misrepresentation in relation to the documentation of history taking and physical examination.

Methods: Among the 12,510 candidates tested between July 2007 and June 2010, there were 24 candidates who failed the COMLEX-USA Level 2-PE because they misrepresented clinical findings on SOAP notes. These errors of commission (over-documentation) were categorized as errors in either history-taking or physical examination, and then subcategorized and analyzed to determine if meaningful patterns in the documentation of these errors occurred.

Results: A total of 662 errors were recorded among the 24 candidates. History-taking items were more often misrepresented (n=378) than physical examination items (n=284). Patient history—a subcategory that included past medical, surgical, medication, allergy, and family histories—was more likely to be misrepresented than other subcategories under history taking (eg, “history of present illness” and ”associated symptoms”) and many physical examination subcategories. Results of the analysis indicated that the misrepresentations were not evenly distributed (χ102=323.1; P<.01): candidates whose SOAP notes contained misrepresentations were statistically more likely to misrepresent in some categories rather than in others.

Conclusions: Physicians and medical students should pay particular attention to patient history, lifestyle history, and neurologic examination to minimize the risk of documentation errors.

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