Back to top

Form Frustration


As clinical encounters demand increasing amounts of information, patients face increasing numbers of forms, along with increasing risks that clinicians will make decisions based upon erroneous information due to poor construction of those forms. I encourage clinicians to strive to eliminate these risks, but the patient can also contribute by refusing to provide inaccurate information and even altering the forms as indicated.

With today's easy access to the Web and smartphone apps we should reserve use of paper forms for the few patients with special needs. By doing so we also minimize the risk of errors from illegible handwriting. If a medical condition impairs handwriting, the ADA may require reasonable accommodation by allowing use of a keyboard or assistance from office staff.

Medical care systems must involve clinicians closely in developing forms rather than leaving such tasks to administrators, and they should continually improve the forms based on feedback from clinicians and patients. Defensive attitudes will lead to bad outcomes. Forms completed only at the time of clinical encounters rely too much on the patient's memory. When possible, providers should offer methods of recording information about changes in symptoms between encounters, too.

Each form should include a statement to the patient that solicits constructive criticism, particularly when the form forces an erroneous or incomplete response or assumption.

Have you encountered problems related to poorly executed forms? In future posts I will provide examples and suggestions for dealing with specific problems.