OBJECTIVE: To describe the documentation of care for the usual range of ear, nose, and throat (ENT) problems seen in primary care as a basis for developing a computerised information system to aid quality assessment. DESIGN: Descriptive study of the pattern of ENT problems and diagnoses and treatment as recorded in individual case notes. SETTING: The primary health care centre in Mjölby, Sweden. PATIENTS: Consultations for ENT problems from a 10% sample randomly selected from all consultations (n = 22,600) in one year. From this sample 375 consultations for ENT problems (16% of all consultations) by 272 patients were identified. MAIN MEASURES: The detailed documentation of each consultation was retrieved from the individual records and compared with the data required for a computer based information system designed to help in quality management. RESULTS: Although the overall picture gained from the data retrieved from the notes suggested that ENT care was probably adequate, the recorded details were limited. The written case notes were insufficient when compared with the details required for a computerised system based on an essential dataset designed to allow assessment of diagnostic accuracy and appropriateness of treatment of ENT problems in primary care. CONCLUSION: There is a gap between the amount and the type of information needed for accurate and useful quality assessment and that which is normally included in case notes. More detailed information is needed if general practitioners' notes are to be used for regular quality assessment of ENT problems but that would mean more time spent on keeping notes. This would be difficult to justify. IMPLICATIONS: The routine information systems used at this primary healthcare centre did not produce sufficient documentation for quality assessment of ENT care. This dilemma might be resolved by specially designed desktop computer software accessed through an essential dataset.
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