Send to

Choose Destination
Adv Med Educ Pract. 2016 Dec 29;8:37-41. doi: 10.2147/AMEP.S120525. eCollection 2017.

Communication pitfalls of traditional history and physical write-up documentation.

Author information

Department of Pediatrics, New York Medical College; Departments of Pediatrics and Psychiatry, Weill Cornell Medical College, NY, USA.



An unofficial standardized "write-up" outline is commonly used for documenting history and physical examinations, giving oral presentations, and teaching clinical skills. Despite general acceptance, there is an apparent discrepancy between the way clinical encounters are conducted and how they are documented.


Fifteen medical school websites were randomly selected from search-engine generated lists. One example of a history and physical write-up from each of six sites, one teaching outline from each of nine additional sites, and recommendations for documentation made in two commonly used textbooks were compared for similarities and differences.


Except for minor variations in documenting background information, all sampled materials utilized the same standardized format. When the examiners' early perceptions of the patients' degree of illness or level of distress were described, they were categorized as "general appearance" within the physical findings. Contrary to clinical practice, none of the examples or recommendations documented these early perceptions before chief concerns and history were presented.


An examiner's initial perceptions of a patient's affect, degree of illness, and level of distress can influence the content of the history, triage decisions, and prioritization of likely diagnoses. When chief concerns and history are shared without benefit of this information, erroneous assumptions and miscommunications can result.


This survey confirms common use of a standardized outline for documenting, communicating, and teaching history-taking and physical examination protocol. The present outline shares early observations out of clinical sequence and may provide inadequate context for accurate interpretation of chief concerns and history. Corrective actions include modifying the documentation sequence to conform to clinical practice and teaching contextual methodology for sharing patient information.


communication; context; documentation; initial assessment; medical decisions; medical errors; medical history; physical examination; write-up

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Dove Medical Press Icon for PubMed Central
Loading ...
Support Center