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Am J Manag Care. 2002 Jan;8(1):37-43.

Accuracy of computerized outpatient diagnoses in a Veterans Affairs general medicine clinic.

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Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System, CA 94304, USA.



Electronically available data, both administrative, such as outpatient encounter diagnostic data, and clinical, such as problem lists, are being used increasingly for outcome and quality assessment, risk adjustment, and clinical reminder systems.


To determine the accuracy of outpatient primary care diagnostic information recorded in administrative and clinical files in a Veterans Affairs VISTA (Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture) database compared with medical chart notes.


Cross-sectional medical chart review of 148 patients attending a general medicine clinic at a university-affiliated Veterans Affairs hospital for 9 diagnoses relevant to the choice of drug therapy for hypertension.


An administrative file of encounter diagnoses, for a 2-year period, and a clinical file of the problem list maintained by the clinician were the sources of electronic diagnoses. We compared these sources with diagnoses abstracted by medical chart review. We estimated the sensitivity and specificity of each electronic data source for detecting medical chart note diagnoses.


The sensitivity for 8 of the 9 study diagnoses was greater than 80% in the administrative file and 49% in the clinical problem list. The specificity was good for the administrative file (91% to 100%) and even better for the clinical file (98% to 100%).


Outpatient encounter diagnoses relevant to hypertension recorded as electronic data had high specificity, and some codes had high sensitivity when collected over multiple visits. The administrative file was more sensitive but less specific than the clinical file. Administrative vs clinical files can be selected to minimize either the false-negative or the false-positive designations, respectively, as dictated by the needs of the quality assessment review.

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