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September 25, 1995

Discrepancies Between Patient Recall and the Medical Record: Potential Impact on Diagnosis and Clinical Assessment of Chronic Disease

Author Affiliations

From the Alaska Area Native Health Service, Anchorage (Drs Boyer and Templin); Office of the Vice President for Research, University of Arizona, Tucson (Mr Goring); Duke University School of Public Health, Durham, NC (Dr Cornoni-Huntley); the National Eye Institute, Bethesda, Md (Mr Everett); the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, Bethesda, Md (Ms Lawrence and Dr Heyse); and Prospect Associates, Rockville, Md (Ms Bowler).

Arch Intern Med. 1995;155(17):1868-1872. doi:10.1001/archinte.1995.00430170060007

Background:  During a case-control study, data necessary for fulfilling diagnostic and classification criteria for spondyloarthropathy were collected from 121 patients.

Objective:  To study the potential impact of differences between patient recall and the medical record on diagnosis and clinical characterization of spondyloarthropathy as a model of chronic disease.

Methods:  The study was conducted among four Alaskan Eskimo populations served by the Alaska Native Health Service. Two sets of historical data were compiled for each subject, one acquired during the interview and the other derived from the medical record. Paired items from the interview and the medical record were analyzed to determine discrepancies and consequent effects on diagnosis, classification, and disease characterization.

Results:  Significant differences were observed in the reporting of genitourinary or diarrheal illnesses preceding or associated with arthritis, the occurrence of eye inflammation in association with joint pain, the occurrence of joint pain and back pain together, and the age at onset of back pain, all of which are important to the diagnosis and classification of spondyloarthropathy. In contrast, for information needed to establish the probable inflammatory nature of back pain, patient interview was more helpful than the medical records, which did not provide adequate details to differentiate inflammatory from mechanical back pain.

Conclusions:  Patient recall bias can substantially affect diagnosis and clinical assessment of chronic disease, as exemplified by spondyloarthropathy. Reliance on records alone, however, may lead to underestimation of features that require subjective appraisal by the patient.(Arch Intern Med. 1995;155:1868-1872)