Length and Redundancy of Outpatient Progress Notes Across a Decade at an Academic Medical Center
Michael F. Chiang
Michelle R. Hribar
Published at JAMA Network Open 2021
Importance There is widespread concern that clinical notes have grown longer and less informative over the past decade. Addressing these concerns requires a better understanding of the magnitude, scope, and potential causes of increased note length and redundancy. Objective To measure changes between 2009 and 2018 in the length and redundancy of outpatient progress notes across multiple medical specialties and investigate how these measures associate with author experience and method of note entry. Design, Setting, and Participants This cross-sectional study was conducted at Oregon Health & Science University, a large academic medical center. Participants included clinicians and staff who wrote outpatient progress notes between 2009 and 2018 for a random sample of 200 000 patients. Statistical analysis was performed from March to August 2020. Exposures Use of a comprehensive electronic health record to document patient care. Main Outcomes and Measures Note length, note redundancy (ie, the proportion of text identical to the patient’s last note), and percentage of templated, copied, or directly typed note text. Results A total of 2 704 800 notes written by 6228 primary authors across 46 specialties were included in this study. Median note length increased 60.1% (99% CI, 46.7%-75.2%) from a median of 401 words (interquartile range [IQR], 225-660 words) in 2009 to 642 words (IQR, 399-1007 words) in 2018. Median note redundancy increased 10.9 percentage points (99% CI, 7.5-14.3 percentage points) from 47.9% in 2009 to 58.8% in 2018. Notes written in 2018 had a mean value of just 29.4% (99% CI, 28.2%-30.7%) directly typed text with the remaining 70.6% of text being templated or copied. Mixed-effect linear models found that notes with higher proportions of templated or copied text were significantly longer and more redundant (eg, in the 2-year model, each 1% increase in the proportion of copied or templated note text was associated with 1.5% [95% CI, 1.5%-1.5%] and 1.6% [95% CI, 1.6%-1.6%] increases in note length, respectively). Residents and fellows also wrote significantly (26.3% [95% CI, 25.8%-26.7%]) longer notes than more senior authors, as did more recent hires (1.8% for each year later [95% CI, 1.3%-2.4%]). Conclusions and Relevance In this study, outpatient progress notes grew longer and more redundant over time, potentially limiting their use in patient care. Interventions aimed at reducing outpatient progress note length and redundancy may need to simultaneously address multiple factors such as note template design and training for both new and established clinicians.