Nursing notes cannot be used for coding and billing purposes. This does not mean, however, that they’re worthless for CDI purposes. Often times, CDI specialists neglect reviewing this documentation because they know it can’t be coded. This is a mistake.
“Often times, it’s the nursing notes that will support queries for encephalopathy, delirium or other altered mental status conditions,” says Karen Bridgeman, MSN, RN, CCDS, CDI educator at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston.
While nursing notes can help with clinical indicators to support a query with patients of all ages, nurses’ documentation helps a couple of pediatric-specific diagnoses, for instance, thrush.
“One thing I’ve noted a few times is that nursing usually documents clinical indicators of thrush. The doctor orders Nystatin, but doesn’t document what he/she is treating,” Claudine Hutchinson, BSN, RN, CDI specialist at the Children’s Hospital at St. Francis in Tulsa, Oklahoma, says.
With sticky diagnoses such as malnutrition – an especially difficult diagnosis in pediatrics – nursing notes also often provide valuable information on the patient’s body mass index (BMI), height, and weight. Additionally, the nursing notes often provide clinical indicators to support clinical validity of an already present diagnosis of malnutrition, according to Laurie Prescott, RN, MSN, CCDS, CDIP, CDI education specialist at HCPro in Danvers, Massachusetts.
“Malnutrition in children is based, in part, on their failure to meet developmental milestones and deviations related to their z-score and the pediatric BMI scale,” Allen Frady, RN, BSN, CCDS, CCS, CDI education specialist for BRL Healthcare in Middleton, Massachusetts, said in response to a question in CDI Strategies.
If the nursing documentation supports a diagnosis of malnutrition based on unique pediatric criteria, then a CDI specialist can use that information to support a query to the physician. Often, nurses record the information used to calculate BMI during the initial physical assessment.
Nurses also often document the present on admission (POA) status of pressure ulcers during initial assessments. Since pressure ulcers fall under the hospital-acquired conditions banner, it is vital to document their POA status. If a physician documents a pressure ulcer, check the nursing documentation for its status upon admission.
We work with our [providers] during rounds to be sure that POA status is documented for any pressure ulcers documented by nursing on the admission assessment,” Jackie Touch, RN, MSN, CCM, CDI specialist at CHOC Children’s in Orange, California, says.
Nursing notes can also provide a valuable education entry point for CDI specialists. “In some instances, it may be as simple as showing the physicians where they can access the nursing documentation. “The physicians did not know how or were unable to view the nursing flow sheets,” at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center before the CDI helped address the problem, says Melinda Matthews, RN, BSN, CCDS, manager of inpatient clinical documentation excellence at Wake Forest Baptist Health, which includes Brenner Children’s Hospital in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, in an ACDIS Q&A.
Even though coders cannot use the nursing notes for coding purposes, Prescott advises working the nursing documentation into your regular chart review process.
“[Nursing notes] often assist in understanding the patient’s baseline conditions, and often help us to identify any secondary diagnoses not mentioned in the provider’s initial assessment,” Prescott said in a response to a question in CDI Strategies.
Prescott also advises educating the nursing staff about the usefulness of their documentation in supporting clinical validation and identifying missing diagnoses and opportunities for clarification. The nurses can be a valuable asset in reaching CDI goals, so educate them accordingly, Prescott says.
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