Measuring and Tracking Medical Outcomes

At first blush, the concept of tracking medical outcomes may seem simple. However, it is actually deceptively complicated to pin down a precise definition. Patients, doctors and healthcare managers may all have dramatically different definitions of what constitutes success after a medical procedure. Relief from symptoms is often a successful outcome for patients; truly curing a condition or eradicating an infection is likely more important to clinicians, on the other hand. New techniques that reduce recovery times and save bed space likely interest managers and administrators more. Things get even more complicated when you consider how much information needs to be collected in order to get a complete understanding of each patient’s outcome. It can be a daunting challenge to to track everything from demographics to procedure details to the co-morbidities.

Why You Should Care

Best practices for surgery medical reportingThe implications of tracking medical outcomes go beyond the legal necessities of reporting and documenting medical procedures and maintaining accurate patient histories though. In fact, while there remains some debate on the issue, tracking medical outcomes (and all the attendant information) has been shown to improve performance and the quality of patient care. The body of evidence, while not yet entirely conclusive and convincing, continues to grow. From surgical site infection rates in Canada to thoracic surgery in the U.S. to coronary care in Sweden, tracking medical outcomes is proving valuable [1-3]. By tracking outcomes, doctors and researcher can scrutinize and compare data. The addition of targeted improvement initiatives based on the information provided by outcome tracking can produce significant improvements in the outcomes themselves [4].

The Challenges of Tracking Medical Outcomes

Accurately tracking medical outcomes presents its own set of challenges, however. Narrative transcription makes extracting data expensive and time-consuming. Reviewers must comb through blocks of text to find the relevant information. Worse yet, illegible handwriting coupled with poorly-filed information can make getting important, actionable data out of reports even more tedious and difficult. Output becomes dependant on the individual skill and conscientious attention to detail of the people involved in the data extraction. Many clinicians, already overworked and incredibly busy, don’t have the resources available for such an undertaking.

Technology to the Rescue

Thankfully, there is an answer. Modern technology and the information age makes it much easier for clinicians and healthcare providers to easily create databases of comprehensive, high-quality outcome data. What’s more, providers can easily anonymize and share that data, allowing comparison of outcome results across clinics and hospitals. The tool is electronic synoptic reporting. It uses formatted electronic templates to capture comprehensive data about medical procedures quickly and efficiently. And because it doesn’t rely on narration or transcription, it’s often more cost-effective and faster than traditional reporting techniques [5-6].

That’s why we created this guide to tracking medical outcomes using electronic synoptic reporting. Inside, you’ll find more detailed information about outcome tracking and how it can improve the quality of care. You’ll learn about the benefits and challenges of setting up electronic tracking in your clinic, and whether or not synoptic reporting is right for your practice.


  1. Reduction in surgical wound infection rates associated with reporting data to surgeons. Taylor G, Buchanan-Chell M, Kirkland T, et al. Can J Infect Dis. 1994 Nov;5(6):263-7.
  2. Improved clinical outcome after acute myocardial infarction in hospitals participating in a Swedish quality improvement initiative. Carlhed R, Bojestig M, Peterson A, Aberg C, Garmo H, Lindahl B; Quality Improvement in Coronary Care Study Group. Circ Cardiovasc Qual Outcomes. 2009 Sep;2(5):458-64.
  3. The Society of Thoracic Surgeons National Database 2016 Annual Report. Jacobs JP, Shahian DM, Prager RL, et al. Ann Thorac Surg. 2016 Dec;102(6):1790-1797.
  4. Impact of implementation of the Surgical Care Improvement Project and future strategies for improving quality in surgery. Munday GS, Deveaux P, Roberts H, Fry DE, Polk HC. Am J Surg. 2014 Nov;208(5):835-40.
  5. Synoptic reporting. Canada Health Infoway Web site. Accessed February 16, 2017.
  6. Temple WJ, Francis WP, Tamano E, Dabbs K, Mack LA, Fields A; Cancer Surgery Alberta. Synoptic surgical reporting for breast cancer surgery: an innovation in knowledge translation. American Journal of Surgery. 2010; 199(6); 770-775.