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Friday, November 11, 2016

The map is not the territory: medical records and 21st century practice

Stephen A Martin & Christine A Sinsky
The Lancet
Published: 25 April 2016


Documentation of care is at risk of overtaking the delivery of care in terms of time, clinician focus, and perceived importance. The medical record as currently used for documentation contributes to increased cognitive workload, strained clinician–patient relationships, and burnout. We posit that a near verbatim transcript of the clinical encounter is neither feasible nor desirable, and that attempts to produce this exact recording are harmful to patients, clinicians, and the health system. In this Viewpoint, we focus on the alternative constructions of the medical record to bring them back to their primary purpose—to aid cognition, communicate, create a succinct account of care, and support longitudinal comprehensive care—thereby to support the building of relationships and medical decision making while decreasing workload.

Here are two excerpts:

While our vantage point is American, documentation guidelines are part of a global tapestry of what has been termed technogovernance, a bureaucratic model in which professionals' behaviour is shaped and manipulated by tight regulatory policies.


In 1931, the scientist Alfred Korzybski introduced the phrase "the map is not the territory", to suggest that the representation of reality is not reality itself. In health care, creating the map (ie, the clinical record) can take on more importance and consume more resources than providing care itself. Indeed, more time may be spent documenting care than delivering care. In addition, fee-for-service payment arrangements pay for the map (the medical note), not the territory (the actual care). Readers of contemporary electronic notes, composed generously of auto-text output, copy forward text, and boiler plate statements for compliance, billing, and performance measurement understand all too well the gap between the map and the territory, and more profoundly, between what is done to patients in service of creating the map and what patients actually need.

Contemporary medical records are used for purposes that extend beyond supporting patient and caregiver. Records are used in quality evaluations, practitioner monitoring, practice certifications, billing justification, audit defence, disability determinations, health insurance risk assessments, legal actions, and research.