A Retrospective Analysis Demonstrates That a Failure to Document Key Comorbid Diseases in the Anesthesia Preoperative Evaluation Associates With Increased Length of Stay and Mortality

Sep 1, 2021


The introduction of electronic health records (EHRs) has helped physicians access relevant medical information on their patients. However, the design of EHRs can make it hard for clinicians to easily find, review, and document all of the relevant data, leading to documentation that is not fully reflective of the complete history. We hypothesized that the incidence of undocumented key comorbid diseases (atrial fibrillation [afib], congestive heart failure [CHF], chronic obstructive pulmonary disease [COPD], diabetes, and chronic kidney disease [CKD]) in the anesthesia preoperative evaluation was associated with increased postoperative length of stay (LOS) and mortality.

Charts of patients >18 years who received anesthesia in an inpatient facility were reviewed in this retrospective study. For each disease, a precise algorithm was developed to look for key structured data (medications, lab results, structured medical history, etc) in the EHR. Additionally, the checkboxes from the anesthesia preoperative evaluation were queried to determine the presence or absence of the documentation of the disease. Differences in mortality were modeled with logistic regression, and LOS was analyzed using linear regression.

A total of 91,011 cases met inclusion criteria (age 18–89 years; 52% women, 48% men; 70% admitted from home). Agreement between the algorithms and the preoperative note was >84% for all comorbidities other than chronic pain (63.5%). The algorithm-detected disease not documented by the anesthesia team in 34.5% of cases for chronic pain (vs 1.9% of cases where chronic pain was documented but not detected by the algorithm), 4.0% of cases for diabetes (vs 2.1%), 4.3% of cases for CHF (vs 0.7%), 4.3% of cases for COPD (vs 1.1%), 7.7% of cases for afib (vs 0.3%), and 10.8% of cases for CKD (vs 1.7%). To assess the association of missed documentation with outcomes, we compared patients where the disease was detected by the algorithm but not documented (A+/P−) with patients where the disease was documented (A+/P+). For all diseases except chronic pain, the missed documentation was associated with a longer LOS. For mortality, the discrepancy was associated with increased mortality for afib, while the differences were insignificant for the other diseases. For each missed disease, the odds of mortality increased 1.52 (95% confidence interval [CI], 1.42-1.63) and the LOS increased by approximately 11%, geometric mean ratio of 1.11 (95% CI, 1.10-1.12).

Anesthesia preoperative evaluations not infrequently fail to document disease for which there is evidence of disease in the EHR data. This missed documentation is associated with an increased LOS and mortality in perioperative patients.