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Medico-legal issues related to emergency physicians' documentation in Canadian emergency departments.

CJEM 2023 August 31
OBJECTIVES: Physician documentation plays a central role in the delivery of safe patient care. It describes a physician's clinical decision-making and supports essential communication between healthcare providers within the patient's circle of care. Good documentation can potentially also decrease a physician's medico-legal risk. This study provides examples of documentation issues attributed to physicians practicing emergency medicine as identified by peer experts in civil legal actions, regulatory authority complaints (College) and hospital complaints (collectively, medico-legal cases) in Canada.

METHODS: We conducted a descriptive study and content analysis of medico-legal cases involving emergency department physicians from a national repository at the Canadian Medical Protective Association. Cases with peer expert criticism of an emergency physician's documentation, which were closed between 2016 and 2020, and occurred in an emergency department were included in our analysis.

RESULTS: Of the 1628 cases involving emergency medicine, our inclusion criteria identified that absent or insufficiently detailed documentation was present in 24% of cases (391/1,628). A detailed review of 20% of the cases (79/391), selected randomly, found that documentation issues were most often associated with the assessment and investigation stage of care. This pertained to documenting details of the clinical examination, relevant medical history, diagnosis, and differential diagnosis.

CONCLUSIONS: For physicians practicing emergency medicine, criticism of documentation was frequently observed in medico-legal cases. Based on the findings of this study and the expert criticism related to documentation, emergency medicine physicians may consider reflecting upon their documentation of the care provided to determine if their documentation provides a clear and accurate chronicle of the care and the rationale for their clinical decisions.

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