10 Common Documentation Flaws

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Stop and use caution before documenting your visit!

 

If you are not concerned about poor to mediocre patient care, getting paid or your license, read no further.  If any or all of these issues are of concern to you, keep reading.  Below are ten of the most frequent flaws in nursing documentation reviewed by the coders.  We know that these oversights and omissions are most often the result of a busy schedule or inattention to documentation because we know our clients.  State surveyors, Medicare contractors and agencies named with 3 letters and an Eagle (OIG, FBI, DHS, CMS, etc.) do not express any great interest in the underlying causes of poor documentation.

1.  No MD Contact Documented when appropriate

Many times, the MD is not called at the house due to time constraints or other issues.  When orders are received, they do not tie back to any communication in the chart.  Documentation of two way communication is critical to both sound clinical practice and payment.

2.  Contradictory Information

The 486 summary indicates that the patient lives with a daughter but the OASIS states the patient lives alone.  The OASIS data states that the patient becomes short of breath with minimal activity but the plan of care does not include shortness of breath in the functional limitation.

3.  Blind Adherence to Rules of Thumb

Somewhere along the way, nurses were told that they must always document on the primary diagnosis on every visit and follow the clinical pathway written by someone who has never visited the patient.  This has led to visit notes that read like, “Pt found on floor with scalp wound bleeding profusely.  Reports she fell yesterday and wasn’t wearing life alert button.  Taught to avoid soda and other concentrated sweets to manage blood sugar.”

4. Failure to Document Sensitive Information

A chart found in one the best agencies I know of had multiple notes reading that the patient complained of extreme pain.  The physician was notified after every visit with a fax and a copy of the med list.  No new orders were received.  The Director of Nursing explained that the patient had recently been the subject of an evening news story involving the sale of her pain meds to supplement her Social Security check. 

5. Missing the Little Stuff

When little things like vital signs, weights, and blood sugars are omitted from the clinical record, it causes problems.  A weight gain of ten pounds after two weeks of forgetting to weigh the patient is negligent but not as bad as forgetting the third week when the patient is hospitalized.  Most nurses take vital signs.  I spend many nights staring at the ceiling wondering why they aren’t on the chart.  Then I remember that I tend to write them on my arms and if I bathe before I chart, they are lost to the water supply.  What’s your reason?

6.  Missing the Big Stuff

Missing new orders, teaching on medications that have been discontinued and not notifying the MD for problems is more common than you think.  It is what feeds many malpractice attorneys.  It is why state surveyors might not trust anything you say during survey.  It is why nurses find themselves answering very difficult questions to the state board of nursing.  If you do not have a current care plan, refuse to see the patient until you have a verbal report.  Document the verbal report.  If you see a patient without looking at prior orders, shame on you.  If the prior orders taken by another nurse are not written and as a result you teach a patient to take a med that has been discontinued, write an incident report.  This is stuff that kills patients.

7.  Lack of Follow-Up

Lack of follow leaves gaping holes in the chart, and often, results in missed opportunities to provide better care to patients.  Consider a clinical record where you read one week that the patient has a doctor’s appointment the following day and that’s the last time it is mentioned.  Did anyone call to see if there was lab or new meds ordered?  It’s hard to believe but sometimes patients don’t tell you these things. 

8.  No Ongoing Medication Reviews

One of the easiest way to prevent re-hospitalizations, adverse reactions, and non-compliance with medication is to simply review all medications against the med list on each and every visit.  Every time a med is missing, a new med appears, or there seems to be confusion in dosing, there lies an opportunity to improve the care of a patient and to increase your level of skill ensuring payment. 

9.  Taking the patient’s word at face value

If a patient tells you they had a lab or diagnostic test and the results were fine, by all means document it.  Also call the physician who ordered the test and get the scoop.  The physician may have told the patient it was ‘fine’ or ‘no change since the last MRI’ but in the context of the specific patient, that same test could show degenerative disease, a low hematocrit or some other information important to support eligibility for your patient.  If possible, always get copies of the final reports for lab and diagnostic tests.

10.  Evidence of Ignorance

This sounds harsh but it is evident en masse in the clinical records reviewed by The Coders.  A new medication will be ordered specific to a disease that is not documented anywhere.  Eye drops for glaucoma, Zemplar for hyperparathyroidism secondary to renal disease, Invokana for Type II diabetes are all medications seen within the last week that have no corresponding diagnosis.  These meds both have serious side effects and teaching to ‘take medications as ordered’ will not help the patient avoid untoward adverse reactions or recognize side effects. 

All of these shortfalls in clinical documentation can be avoided by simply reviewing the charts.  The average time for a skilled nursing visit is 30 minutes and the average payment is equal or more to what nurses would make in the hospital.  This means that nurses have the time to review the clinical records, go to case conference meetings and call physicians.  If a nurse has ten fingers and a keyboard or two thumbs and a smart phone, enough information regarding medications is available around the clock.  Medscape has a great completely free app for mobile phones that has data that can be stored on your phone when you are away from Internet connectivity.

We all want to get paid.  If agencies don’t get paid, they have no money to pay consultants and coders and that reason to document well falls second only to improving patient care.

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