Good charting is a skill that can be learned, but when the basic ethical principles involved are not adhered to it can actually do patients more harmed than good. As they say “The pen is mightier than the sword” and that is so true!
Charting on a patient carries power, but with that comes responsibility to carry out this activity with grace and selflessness, never forgetting that you are commenting on aspects of that person’s life and this very act can influence how the patient is treated by others who read it. One must resist the urge to “think out loud” in a patient’s medical record where such conjecture might not be in the patient’s best interest and thus hinder their care.
Doctors, if you are using a patient’s medical record to further your personal agenda or hypothesis in conflict with the patient (or with another doctor indirectly) you are not benefitting your patient, so please stop it.
The medical record is not your personal journal, it is not the place to grandstand, to take shots at the patient, to show your ego, nor is it the place to take out your frustrations from home.
Given the fact that you assume the patient will not likely read what you’ve written it might be tempting to fill the chart with your own bullish rehetoric, but this says more about you than it does about the patient and therefore it does not belong there.
When I worked officially as a patient advocate under the federal Protection and Advocacy system devised in 1986 by legislation enacted by Congress I attended extensive training sessions on various aspects of the job and I learned alot about what a proper chart is supposed to look like.
We used to have an independent contractor evaluate all advocates’ charts on patients nationwide, and my charting was actually deemed the best in the country of all Protection and Advocacy systems.
There are certain principles that exemplify skillful charting on a patient.
1) Charting must be accurate and precise
2) It must be relevant
3) It must be written to benefit the patient
Accuracy and Precision
This is pretty self-explanatory but there is often confusion as to how to interpret what is “accurate” and what is “precise.”
Let me start by saying that you are only resonsible for charting what you know to be a fact. This does not mean that what you don’t know is not a fact; one to be disputed in the chart. For example; upon receiving my doctors’ notes last week, I discovered that my pulmonologist had written some things attempting to question my diagnosis of Sarcoidosis. Why he would do this when Emory has already confirmed the diagnosis seems suspect in and of itself and smacks of personal agenda.
My diagnosis was obtained by objective tests 13 years ago.
I had a Gallium scan and other test results such as labs which showed idiosycratic markers for the disease. That is a fact.
There is no disputing that, yet the doctor did. It is true that a follow-up gallium scan this year indicated it was probably not actively in flair now, but that does not invalidate the diagnosis itself. It only means it’s not in flair at this point in time and indicates that my current symptoms are coming from something else. It has not magically disappeared as it’s a chronic and incurable disease. It’s possible that this pulmonologist may be using outdated understanding of the disease (long ago it was believed to spontaneously “go away”), but this has been disproven with the advent of more understanding of the physiological workings of the disease.
Sarcoidisis was once thought only to be a lung disease (hence why it’s often treated by Pulmonologists), but now it is known to be a multi-system disease that can and does affect every part of the human body. It was once thought to be only characteristed by non-caseating granulomas, but has since been shown to be much more complex than that and its inflammation manifests in many more ways than once believed.
It is now undrstood by the top experts in the field to be associated and most likely caused by intracellular pathogens. It is not merely an autoimmune response after an offending pathogen has been cleared from the body, but instead the resulting inflammation is a response of the body detecting a pathogen it just can’t locate and effectively kill.
My Pulmonologist, Dr. H perpetuated further inaccuracies when he charted that my Dysautonomia was “self-diagnosed” and and in his insistance on continuing this assertion in the medical record pretty much accused me of lying given the fact that I’ve told him that this came from a doctor who treated me with IV Saline at Piedmont hospital; not from me.
It is a fact that I knew nothing about Saline as a treatment modality for Dysautonomia before the doctor ar Piedmont did a blinded experiment (unknown to me at the time) by putting me on Saline infusion, then taking me off for 24 hours or so to see what happened symptom-wise.
The doctor who tried this did not explain any of this until after he trialed this method on me. This prevents any bias I could have had and thus rules out placebo effect. The fact that I responded positively when treatment was given and negatively when it was withdrawn indicates that reduced blood volume is a factor in my Dysautonomia.
Dr. H glossed over this in his charting, disregarding what I’d told him. He made no attempt and showed no interest in verifying what I had told him, merely assuming it wasn’t true. Why? The answer to that lies in an area of his mind only Dr. H can answer, but one thing is clear; that the subtext in his charting conveys that he does not believe me.
How does this serve the patient? Answer: it doesn’t. It only serves to undermine the patient. He went on to state in the record that I was “suspicious” and “defensive at having my opinion challenged.” Hmmm. Sounds like projection.
During our last appointment he got very huffy and puffy that I wouldn’t just accept as fact his theory that my problem was psychiatric in nature and wanted to end the appointment because I wasn’t buying it. He said ” Do you really think Neurlogy is helping you?” Then was very offended when I told him I wanted to give Dr. V a chance, and his statement was “OK, I’ll take a back seat to Neurology” as he rolled his eyes and heaved a huge sigh with matching dramatic shoulders shrugged up, then down.
His charting reflects that he was agreeing to that course of action, yet he contradicts that with a lengthy monologue which tries a bit too hard to invalidate my seeking expert assessment out of state (which Neurology supports my obtaining).
He says that going for these assessments is “premature” yet he suggests I go to a psychiatrist” (which should be the last resort after everything else is ruled out, and it hasn’t been). There are alot more tests that have not yet been performed before throwing me in that dustbin. For all his talk about lack of “proof” and “evidence” he has not one shred of proof that this condition is in any way psychological. Besides, psychiatrists are generally in the business of prescribing medication (indicating a physiological cause for which medication is assumed to have a beneficial effect on a patient).
So which is it, Dr. H? Let’s stick to the facts.Let’s be accurate and precise rather than subjective and vague.
1) I have dysregulated blood pressure,
2) chronic constipation,
3) near syncopal episodes,
4) Muscle weakness and spasticity, and severe fatigue
5) Etreme thirst and need ice water by the bed at all times
6) GI upset; nausea, lower GI spasticity, inability to eat solid food for weeks at a time
7) I’ve been hospitalized and treated for such problems, and said treatment improved the symptoms without my knowledge of Dysautonomia at the time (I did not read up on it until after it worked).
8) Dysregulated sleep/wake cycle (evidenced by 3 sleep studies that he ordered and interpreted)
9) I have Central Apnea and Biot’s Respiration; both indicative of a “central process”. Patients don’t develop these for no reason. Idiopathic does not equal psychological or psychiatric. It just means the cause has not been found yet and it requires further investigation.
All the wild speculation about my condition possibly being in my head is a distraction from the task at hand and has derailed any unbiased investigation. Dr. H went way off-course with only the lack of an explanation for all my symptoms as his reasoning for wanting to send me to a psychiatrist. I don’t see how this is at all relevant, and seeing as he figured I wouldn’t see what he’d written, the intent could only be as a coded alert to other doctors who might be looking at my records to view me as less than credible. None of my sleep problems were addressed in that last appointment with him although I’d told him that the sleep attacks had returned. He was only interested in invalidating me along with all my symptoms and even my established diagnoses, as though in one fell swoop he’d completely come to revile my very core essence and viewed me as suddenly unworthy of even the most basic dignity afforded to patients because they are human beings who deserve compassion and empathy.
It was this “othering” that is unmistakably present in the room, that visceral feeling that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up when you encounter it.
Written To Benefit The Patient
Charting on a patient must be written with the intent to do something useful for the patient.
What do you intend to accomplish?
What is your game plan?
How are you going to go about helping the patient?
These interventions should be developed in partnership with the patient, as the patient is the one who must be happy or at least content with their healthcare outcome since the patient is the one who must live inside their own body.
You, the doctor can go home and forget about the patients’ pain, fatigue, GI symptoms, movement symptoms, syncope, or other medical problems. The patient, however does not have that luxury.
Dr. H. stated in my record that he was going to go along with Neurology, but Neurology (Dr. V. to be specific) had changed course and was now on my side and no longer doubting that I have Dysautonomia. Dr. V had a very succinct plan which partnered with me to obtain the full assessment for my Dysautonomia, laid out in bullet points.
She did put the Aspergers assessment on my chart as a goal (which although I asked her at the time to keep this off the record she did not), but be that as it may, this was neuropsych; not psych as Dr. H was so blithely wanting to push.
Did he read her notes? I wonder. Perhaps he assumed that she would go in the direction he was heading and when she didn’t he lashed out using his charting as a weapon to defend his wounded ego.
Since I believe they can edit records later I have no way of knowing when Dr. H entered the voluminous material pushing the psych agenda. It may have been soon after I left his office or it may have been later once he’d seen that Dr. V. was not thinking that my problem was in my head.
Dr. V. commented on June 3rd at my last appointment that she had noticed my blood pressure had been running low. Although she did not know the underlying cause of the Dysautonomia she did not dispute it in any way, and was welcoming my going to these consults out of town, admitting that Emory does not have the facilities nor expertise to do full autonomic testing here.
Unlike Dr. H., her notes this time were constructive, laying out a plan that I was in agreement with, a list of numbered goals, (and sticking to the overall goal which was to find the underlying cause of my Dysautonomia and ultimately treating it). That is more like it.
To this day I believe that Dr. V. in her heart is sorry for how she misjudged me on our first meeting and truly wanted to make up for the scathing rush-to-judgement that is forever branded on my medical record.
I don’t know why she did not edit it when she returned from maternity leave, but maybe the reason was to show that sometimes doctors can be wrong and that they can also admit that they were wrong and can change later. It takes a bigger man or woman to admit when you made a bad judgment call and correct it than to stick to your story even once you realize your first impression was incorrect.
It did hurt to know that what she’d written the first time was the straw that broke the camel’s back and resulted in both my GP and Pulmonologist’s diverging from me and the impetus for the dissolution of those doctor/patient relationships, but she is not solely responsible. They have a part in it too, and it’s disturbing that either of them would so quickly dash my credibility on the rocks because of some other doctor’s opinion who had just met me. Those two had known me as a credible person; one for about 1 year, and the other for 13 years.
They should have known not to be swayed from my side based on some opinion espoused by a doctor that had no chance to know me as they had and had only a limited snapshot of the circumstances under which I came to the clinic.
In the final analysis Emory’s Administration didn’t allow things to work themselves out and to set the record straight once more data could be obtained. They were too invested in making sure it never would be worked out, too invested in keeping the record toxic and defamatory so that I could not obtain care in or out of Emory.
In their fervor to interfere between doctor and patient we may never know if all this might have ultimately been put in the past and whether the relationships that still existed would have become stronger once more facts were elicidated upon further testing.
Perhaps this could have been a model, a learning experience for other doctors to see how things can evolve over time and how things can be put back together after such a fire-storm of controversy sets the record on fire.
Maybe behind the scenes Administration thought such a mess had been made by their various employees that it was irreparable, but the most unfortunate thing of all was that by the time they started blocking people from working with me things had died down considerably, those who had openly turned against me were gone, and when Dr. V. returned it looked as though things might have a happy ending afterall.
Just as my care made a constructive turn, I encountered a brick wall; the corporation added insult to injury, swooped in, and never allowed the answers to play out.
Instead of becoming a teachable moment for other physicians watching it this case became a prime example of how not to do conflict resolution when you discover that agents of your company have engaged in unethical charting on a patient.