Author Affiliations: Divisions of General Internal Medicine (Drs Lin and Pell and Ms McKenzie) and Rheumatology (Dr Caplan), Department of Medicine, University of Colorado School of Medicine, Aurora; and Denver Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Denver, Colorado (Dr Caplan).
Many health care organizations are deploying electronic health records (EHRs).1 A health care provider's EHR progress notes are essential for effective communication. However, these notes may increase errors when they are difficult to read.2 Billing requirements, regulatory statements, and extensive inclusion of test results detract from progress note brevity and clarity.3 In our experience, EHR progress notes that include such elements can span 17 electronic pages, rendering actual clinical reasoning extraordinarily difficult to locate. Missing data can lead to lost productivity and increased cost.4 Health care providers' frustration with EHR progress notes may interfere with EHR adoption5,6 and deployment.7 Although the traditional SOAP (Subjective, Objective, Assessment, Plan) format8 mirrors the sequence of a clinical encounter, it translates poorly from paper medical charts to the EHR. Finding the Assessment and Plan requires considerable on-screen “scrolling.” We examined the adoption of an alternate APSO (Assessment, Plan, Subjective, Objective) format, which places the Assessment and Plan at the top of the note, where it is readily located when the EHR note is opened. We hypothesized it would improve readability and satisfaction and shorten the time to answer clinical questions.
We introduced the APSO format to 13 outpatient clinics at a large academic medical center. All clinics used an EHR (Enterprise EHR V10.2; Allscripts) at baseline. We measured the adoption rate of health care providers using APSO notes 2 months after their introduction. We conducted an online satisfaction survey of health care providers who had written at least 1 note in APSO format. Using a prospective, observational design, we compared the time it took for health care providers to answer clinical questions from SOAP format notes vs APSO format notes. We compared mean time to respond to all questions using the paired t test and used linear regression to control for the order of questions. P < .05 was considered statistically significant. The institutional review board approved the study.
Six primary care and 2 specialty clinics chose to mandate the APSO format, whereas 3 primary care and 2 specialty clinics chose a voluntary APSO format. All 47 health care providers in the “mandatory” clinics (100%) and 37 of 73 health care providers in the “voluntary” clinics (51%) adopted APSO after 2 months. Of the 84 who adopted APSO, 64 completed the satisfaction survey (76%) (Table). The majority of health care providers (73%) were “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with APSO as authors, and 82% were “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with APSO as readers of progress notes. Most respondents (72%) reported that the transition to using APSO was “easy” or “very easy.” A majority (61%) noted no difference (“neutral”) in the time it took to write APSO vs SOAP notes. Similarly, the most frequent response was “neutral” to questions comparing APSO and SOAP formats regarding the likelihood of “skipping around in EHR notes,” “forgetting to complete segments of the note,” and whether “the EHR note structure reflects how I think.” Respondents reported that “finding clinically relevant data” was “easier” or “much easier” with APSO (APSO, 81%; SOAP, 0%). Similarly, respondents reported “faster” or “much faster” browsing through EHR notes with APSO (APSO, 83%; SOAP, 0%) and they “preferred” or “strongly preferred” reading notes with the APSO format (APSO, 75%; SOAP, 8%). When asked about “ease of following the flow of clinical reasoning across multiple notes,” a majority supported APSO (54%). Seven health care providers were timed while reviewing 10 APSO notes followed by 10 SOAP notes, and 7 health care providers were timed reviewing 10 SOAP notes followed by 10 APSO notes (each set of 20 notes contained the same information). There was no statistically significant difference between the time taken to answer questions about APSO vs SOAP notes (P = .37). Of 120 questions, 4 were answered incorrectly from SOAP notes and 3 of 120 were answered incorrectly from APSO notes (P = .54).
We provide the first estimates of readability and health care provider satisfaction for EHR notes in the relatively novel APSO format. Despite the inconvenience of adopting a new method to assemble progress notes, a majority of health care providers did so voluntarily. Most health care providers favored the change, both as authors and as readers of APSO notes in the EHR. Particularly, 83% reported that APSO was faster, and 81% noted that it was easier to find data in APSO notes. However, in our small sample, we were unable to detect a difference in the time health care providers took to answer questions from APSO vs SOAP notes. Further studies are needed to determine whether these outpatient findings at one center can apply to another, or to inpatient or emergency department settings, or even to radiology and pathology reports. Readability of EHR notes will be increasingly important as more organizations adopt EHRs. This study demonstrates that a structural change in the health care provider EHR progress note, from SOAP to APSO format, is feasible and generally well received.
Correspondence: Dr Lin, Division of General Internal Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Colorado School of Medicine, 12631 E 17th Ave, Box B-180, Academic Office Building 1, Room 8217, PO Box 6511, Aurora, CO 80045 (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Published Online: November 26, 2012. doi:10.1001/2013.jamainternmed.474
Author Contributions:Study concept and design: Lin and Caplan. Acquisition of data: Lin and McKenzie. Analysis and interpretation of data: Lin, McKenzie, Pell, and Caplan. Drafting of the manuscript: Lin, Pell, and Caplan. Critical revision of the manuscript for important intellectual content: Lin, McKenzie, Pell, and Caplan. Statistical analysis: Caplan. Obtained funding: Lin. Administrative, technical, and material support: McKenzie. Study supervision: Lin.
Conflict of Interest Disclosures: None reported.
Funding/Support: Dr Caplan is supported by Career Development Award (07-221) from the Department of Veterans Affairs, Health Services Research & Development Service.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the position or policy of the Department of Veterans Affairs.
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