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J Palliat Med. 2018 Mar;21(S2):S52-S60. doi: 10.1089/jpm.2017.0542. Epub 2017 Nov 28.

Using Electronic Health Records for Quality Measurement and Accountability in Care of the Seriously Ill: Opportunities and Challenges.

Author information

1 Cambia Palliative Care Center of Excellence, University of Washington , Seattle, Washington.
2 Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care, and Sleep Medicine, University of Washington , Seattle, Washington.
3 Department of Bioethics and Humanities, University of Washington , Seattle, Washington.
4 Department of Family Medicine, University of Washington , Seattle, Washington.
5 Department of Bioinformatics and Medical Education, University of Washington , Seattle, Washington.
6 Seattle Cancer Care Alliance , Seattle, Washington.
7 Clinical Research Division, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center , Seattle, Washington.
8 Department of Psychosocial Oncology and Palliative Care, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute , Boston, Massachusetts.



As our population ages and the burden of chronic illness rises, there is increasing need to implement quality metrics that measure and benchmark care of the seriously ill, including the delivery of both primary care and specialty palliative care. Such metrics can be used to drive quality improvement, value-based payment, and accountability for population-based outcomes.


In this article, we examine use of the electronic health record (EHR) as a tool to assess quality of serious illness care through narrative review and description of a palliative care quality metrics program in a large healthcare system.


In the search for feasible, reliable, and valid palliative care quality metrics, the EHR is an attractive option for collecting quality data on large numbers of seriously ill patients. However, important challenges to using EHR data for quality improvement and accountability exist, including understanding the validity, reliability, and completeness of the data, as well as acknowledging the difference between care documented and care delivered. Challenges also include developing achievable metrics that are clearly linked to patient and family outcomes and addressing data interoperability across sites as well as EHR platforms and vendors. This article summarizes the strengths and weakness of the EHR as a data source for accountability of community- and population-based programs for serious illness, describes the implementation of EHR data in the palliative care quality metrics program at the University of Washington, and, based on that experience, discusses opportunities and challenges. Our palliative care metrics program was designed to serve as a resource for other healthcare systems.


Although the EHR offers great promise for enhancing quality of care provided for the seriously ill, significant challenges remain to operationalizing this promise on a national scale and using EHR data for population-based quality and accountability.


accountability in care; electronic health records; palliative care; quality metrics; seriously ill patient population

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