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J Surg Educ. 2018 Mar 9. pii: S1931-7204(17)30810-3. doi: 10.1016/j.jsurg.2018.02.008. [Epub ahead of print]

Coding Discrepancies Between Medical Student and Physician Documentation.

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Department of Surgery, Michigan Medicine, Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Department of Surgery, Section of Thoracic Surgery, Michigan Medicine, Ann Arbor, Michigan. Electronic address:



Accurate medical documentation is a core competency in medical education and is critical to successful surgical practice. The following study aims to assess the coding accuracy of medical student documentation.


Retrospective chart review identified patient encounters in a surgery clinic that contained documentation by both a faculty member and a third-year medical student. Records were de-identified and assigned a level of service (LOS) and diagnostic code by trained, expert coders. Differences in LOS and diagnostic code were then compared between medical student and faculty documentation.


A single academic health system.


Third-year medical students.


80 full patient evaluations and 20 postoperative visits were analyzed. Median faculty and student LOS was 4 (range 3-4) and 3 (range 0-4) respectively (p < 0.001). Students failed to document a sufficient number of elements in the evaluation, failed to specify studies ordered, and documented low medical decision making. Diagnostic code was concordant between students and faculty for only 31% of documentation.


Student documentation of clinical encounters is coded at a lower LOS than faculty documentation. These results likely reflect the lack of education regarding E/M coding in medical school, which is integral to real world practice.


Accurate medical documentation is critical to the correct diagnostic coding and billing of a medical encounter. We found that compared to faculty documentation of the same patient evaluations, student documentation was typically coded at a lower level of service and assigned a different diagnostic code by professional medical coders. Addressing these topics in medical school may better prepare students for real-world practice.


Systems Based Practice; coding and billing; medical student education; surgery; surgical education

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