Journal of General Internal Medicine

, Volume 27, Issue 8, pp 968–973 | Cite as

Use of an Electronic Problem List by Primary Care Providers and Specialists

  • Adam Wright
  • Joshua Feblowitz
  • Francine L. Maloney
  • Stanislav Henkin
  • David W. Bates
Original Research



Accurate patient problem lists are valuable tools for improving the quality of care, enabling clinical decision support, and facilitating research and quality measurement. However, problem lists are frequently inaccurate and out-of-date and use varies widely across providers.


Our goal was to assess provider use of an electronic problem list and identify differences in usage between medical specialties.


Chart review of a random sample of 100,000 patients who had received care in the past two years at a Boston-based academic medical center.


Counts were collected of all notes and problems added for each patient from 1/1/2002 to 4/30/2010. For each entry, the recording provider and the clinic in which the entry was recorded was collected. We used the Healthcare Provider Taxonomy Code Set to categorize each clinic by specialty.


We analyzed the problem list use across specialties, controlling for note volume as a proxy for visits.


A total of 2,264,051 notes and 158,105 problems were recorded in the electronic medical record for this population during the study period. Primary care providers added 82.3% of all problems, despite writing only 40.4% of all notes. Of all patients, 49.1% had an assigned primary care provider (PCP) affiliated with the hospital; patients with a PCP had an average of 4.7 documented problems compared to 1.5 problems for patients without a PCP.


Primary care providers were responsible for the majority of problem documentation; surgical and medical specialists and subspecialists recorded a disproportionately small number of problems on the problem list.


patient problem list electronic medical records primary care 



This work was supported by a grant from the Partners Community HealthCare Incorporated (PCHI) System Improvement Grant Program and approved by the Partners HealthCare Institutional Review Board. PCHI was not involved in the design, execution or analysis of the study or in the preparation of this manuscript.

Prior Presentations

None to report.

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they do not have a conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Society of General Internal Medicine 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Adam Wright
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Joshua Feblowitz
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Francine L. Maloney
    • 2
  • Stanislav Henkin
    • 1
    • 2
  • David W. Bates
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    • 4
  1. 1.Division of General Internal MedicineBrigham & Women’s HospitalBostonUSA
  2. 2.Partners HealthCareBostonUSA
  3. 3.Harvard Medical SchoolBostonUSA
  4. 4.Department of Health Policy and ManagementHarvard School of Public HealthBostonUSA

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