Nurses Notes: Guidelines On What Not To Chart

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    The significance of accurate, timely documentation by nurses and other members of staff cannot be emphasized enough. However, some types of documentation should not be entered onto the patient's medical record for various reasons. This piece contains a general list of notations that nurses should not document in the patient's chart.

    Nurses Notes: Guidelines On What Not To Chart

    The medical record is a permanent collection of legal documents that should supply an all-encompassing, accurate report concerning a patient's health condition. Physicians, nurses, social workers, dieticians, mid-level providers and other members of the interdisciplinary team contribute to each patient's medical record to paint a comprehensive picture of the patient's status along with any care that has been rendered. The patient's chart needs to contain enough pertinent data to enable each member of the healthcare team to render care in an integrated manner.

    Most nurses have probably heard the old adage, "If it was not charted, it was not done!" However, some types of documentation should not be entered onto the patient's medical record for various reasons. Since the chart is a permanent record that is subject to entrance in court-ordered legal actions, nurses and other healthcare professionals must exercise extreme caution when documenting. The following is a very general list of the notations that nurses should not document in the chart.

    Never document nursing care before it is provided.

    Nursing staff should never chart assessments, medication administration or treatments prior to actually completing the tasks because this may contribute to an inaccurate record filled with incorrect data. If the medical record contains nursing care that was never performed, this is fraudulent in some cases. Always remember that other clinicians may depend on correct documentation to assist in formulating decisions regarding patient care.

    Do not routinely document care rendered by others.

    It is allowable in several instances to document care, tasks or procedures performed by another individual. However, the documentation in the medical record must clearly indicate the individual who actually rendered the care. If the house nursing supervisor applied the four point restraints, be sure to identify him/her as the person who carried out the task. But do not regularly chart actions that have been performed by other people. If a coworker or super-ordinate does something incorrectly that results in patient injury or death, you do not want culpability.

    Never leave blank spaces between entries.

    In this day and age of prevalent electronic medical records, some facilities and healthcare settings still utilize paper charting. Nurses who still use paper and pen to chart must never leave blank spaces between entries. These unused spaces might be used by others to add questionable notations, so always be sure to draw a line across blank areas.

    Do not chart that a patient is in pain unless you have intervened.

    No prudent nurse would even think of documenting "Patient complains of radiating chest pain," without subsequently documenting what was done about the issue. Thoroughly chart all notifications, interventions and actions taken to avoid liability.

    Do not record another patient's name in the medical record.

    Let's assume that Mr. Wright gets into a physical altercation with his roommate, Mr. Robinson. The nurse is violating Mr. Robinson's confidentiality if she documents his name anywhere in Mr. Wright's medical record, and vise versa. To get around this issue, employ a vague description such as 'the roommate' or the 'patient in bed A.'

    Whenever possible, do not document subjective descriptions.

    Attempt to refrain from charting subjective descriptions such as "Patient's blood pressure is really high." Obtain accurate vital sign checks, intakes and outputs, and other objectively measurable data and record this information in a timely manner.


    Do not openly criticize the care that was rendered by a coworker.

    The medical record is a group of documents that should provide a comprehensive view of the patient's condition. Conversely, the medical record is not appropriate for criticizing care performed by other members of the healthcare team. Berating a fellow nurse, nursing assistant or technician in the nurses notes will accomplish nothing other than perhaps fuel the fire of state surveyors, malpractice attorneys and anyone who happens to read the chart at a later date.

    Do not mention short-staffing in the medical record.

    Documenting the existence of staffing issues in the medical record rarely, if ever, helps to increase the number of staff members. On the other hand, medical malpractice lawyers love reading nurses' notes that provide details about a facility's lack of staff.

    Do not make insulting references to patients while charting.

    Try to avoid referring to patients as 'drug seekers,' 'rude,' 'vulgar,' 'profane,' or 'crazy' when documenting. Utilize objective phrases and direct quotes whenever possible such as 'Patient states to this writer, "You are a ___ (B-Word) and I will kill you!"'

    Do not ever document the existence of incident reports.

    Never document the preparation of an incident report in the nurses notes. The incident report is an internal document meant to facilitate improvement of systems and processes within the healthcare facility. If a nurse charts a note describing that an incident report was completed, this internal form now becomes subject to discovery by external medical malpractice lawyers if legal action were to arise at a future time.
    Last edit by Joe V on Jan 8, '15
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    56 Comments

  3. by   prnqday
    Thanks for the reminder Commuter !!!!
  4. by   NurseDirtyBird
    As far as expletives are concerned, when I'm quoting a patient, I always use the exact words they said. I don't use asterisks or blanks, because the patient did not state "B- asterisk- asterisk- asterisk- asterisk." I do it for objective accuracy, although putting a swear word in a legal document makes me giggle a little.
  5. by   LPNalltheway
    Question about the "not charting patient's pain" at a OBGYN office, many times the main pt complaint is pelvic pain. I do chart: c/o pelvic pain 10 out 10 pain scale etc... but I figured since is not a hospital setting the chart regarding to what is done to resolve the pain is done by the doctor.. Am I wrong? Any suggestion on how to chart that?
  6. by   MunoRN
    I assume this isn't what you really meant: "Do not chart that a patient is in pain unless you have intervened. No prudent nurse would even think of documenting "Patient complains of radiating chest pain," without subsequently documenting what was done about the issue. Thoroughly chart all notifications, interventions and actions taken to avoid liability. "

    If you intervene then chart what intervention was provided, if you don't intervene then chart why. Intentionally omitting an otherwise pertinent finding to avoid liability for not acting on that finding is falsification of charting.
  7. by   LPNalltheway
    I assume this isn't what you really meant: "Do not chart that a patient is in pain unless you have intervened. No prudent nurse would even think of documenting "Patient complains of radiating chest pain," without subsequently documenting what was done about the issue. Thoroughly chart all notifications, interventions and actions taken to avoid liability. "
    Hello, Muno..
    But let's say in a doctor's office setting usually doctors won't give pt anything for the 'pelvic pain" for example.. they send the pt to get a pelvic ultrasound and the pt f/u after that. So no action to stop the pain is taking until the results from the ultrasound are back..
    Last edit by LPNalltheway on Mar 22, '14 : Reason: did not quote it right
  8. by   MunoRN
    Quote from LPNalltheway
    Hello, Muno..
    But let's say in a doctor's office setting usually doctors won't give pt anything for the 'pelvic pain" for example.. they send the pt to get a pelvic ultrasound and the pt f/u after that. So no action to stop the pain is taking until the results from the ultrasound are back..
    Then chart that. Pt reports...MD notified...further assessment of pain etiology is pending.
  9. by   LPNalltheway
    thank you MunoRN...
  10. by   kungpoopanda
    At a former workplace, the filing of an incident report was stated in the patient notes. This was seen as part of the follow up of the incident.
  11. by   malestunurse
    I would also say even though I see it a fair bit is not to leave tasks for other staff members in the notes. Do however, document that you informed someone that a task needs to be done.
  12. by   Nurse acewa
    Thank you Commuter; excellent and timely advice and a reminder. I work as an intake nurse and do the initial assessment then hand off the patient to a NP or MD. Many times the Pt. will c/o pain and I do chart this and the level. I think I am expected to chart this if the pt. states they are in pain. Many times they do all of the interventions except the EKG's which they ask me to perform. So I take it from your article that you would suggest that I chart that I did the EKG?

    Another time I charted that a pt. had SOB and the NP and student NP did not address it at all and instead addressed something else. What should I chart to protect myself from situations like this in the future?
  13. by   NurseDirtyBird
    I don't work in a clinic, but every time I've been to the doctor and c/o pain (I ask to see my chart), the nurse charts that I have x/10 pain, and just leaves it at that. That's just part of the intake. The provider is then responsible for resolving my pain in some way. Say they refer me to PT, the MD charts the referral to PT and then patient teaching regarding the use of ibuprofen, ice and heat. Or if it's for a migraine or something and I get pain medication, they chart that. In an office situation it seems that the nurse is to just collect data and not necessarily intervene besides noting in the chart and reporting to the provider.

    @ DWALLACE3144, you did your job and informed the provider. Their not addressing the concern is on them, not you, I would think.
  14. by   DedHedRN
    I work with a nurse that likes to write things such as "Pt says that Nelly RN told her last night to take 15mg of morphine and this SN informed them that its actually for 5mg" "they complained that Nelly RN was rude, and they were not happy with care from that nurse"

    I have been the recipient of this kind of charting and it infuriates me, because for one, I may have never told them to take that much morphine and have no idea why they are associating my name with saying that, and for two, there may be a lot more around the situation, maybe they are mad that they wanted ativan and the doctor couldn't prescribe it, it doesn't mean that I was actually rude.

    So I would add to that list, Don't chart issues that you didn't witness!

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