Technology today offers a variety of ways to present data to our attorney-clients as Certified Legal Nurse Consultants. Follow these 12 strategies the next time you write a medical-related case report to ensure your attorney-clients don’t miss a single salient point.
- Present all similar data in columns, not in rows. When you place all related data – for example, all temperature readings, all hematocrits or all entries from the nurses’ notes – in a single column, the reader’s eyes can travel easily up and down to quickly compare and spot trends or discrepancies.
- List events or other data in chronological order. If you’re dealing with late entries in the medical record, list the questionable entries in the stated order, noting in the Comments column that you suspect they were late. If a med given at 9:30am isn’t significant until the patient has a reaction to it at 12:00 noon, still list the medicine when it was given at 9:30; then in the 13:00 entry, refer back to the 9:30 entry, if necessary.
- When creating lengthy chronologies, put data in similar order within each entry. For example, if most entries in your chronology summarize daily events including nursing notes, meds, medical orders, etc. list these in the same order each day. This makes each piece of data easier for your reader to find.
- Be sure what actually happened is in the Events column and your comments about what happened is in the Comments column. Be careful not to mix up the two. Even when you’re summarizing or paraphrasing the record, you’re still describing the event – so put this in the Events column. Your opinions or notations on what was missing from the record, what was inconsistent, what was unlikely given the patient’s condition, what deviated from the SOC, etc. go in the Comments column.
- If you have several tables in one report, use similar column widths and the same font and font size for column headings. This makes it easier for the reader to find and cross-reference data in different tables.
- Give all figures, tables and exhibits meaningful titles. Also add descriptive captions to figures. Don’t just call a table “Chronology” – call it “Chronology of David Jackson’s Hospitalization at Memorial Oaks Rehab Center, 10/02/10-10/27/10.” This helps your reader to quickly find data that’s important to her and to understand the data she’s reading.
- Refer to figures, tables and exhibits in the body of your text both by title and by number of letter. This makes it easier for your reader to find the data. Make sure your text shows why this data is included and its importance to the case – in other words, interpret your data for the reader.
- Short tables can be incorporated into your text directly, unless they’re a part of a sequence of data which logically group together at the end of the report. If you’re putting a relatively short table in an attachment at the end of the report, expand the columns or enlarge the font size to make the best use of the space. Ultimately, the decision on where to place tables, figures and other data is based on where the reader can find it the quickest.
- Tables, especially longer ones, are easier to read and follow when you use grid lines. Keep the grid lines thin and light to avoid distracting from your data.
- For tables longer than one page, set them up so that the title and heading rows repeat on each page.
- Optimize column widths in tables. If you have extensive Comments, make that column wider. If your Event descriptions are longer, give that column more space. Wrap text when needed. Generally, put Date/Time in one column and make it as narrow as possible to save space. If your entire chronology takes place on one day, you don’t have to restate the date for every entry – just be sure the date is part of the title of your table and use a Time column instead of a Date/Time column.
- Don’t be afraid to use landscape layout if that will help you present the data more compactly or more effectively. Often landscape works best when you have numerous columns.
Now that you know these 12 strategies to present to your attorney-clients in an easy to understand format, it’s time to go write that report.
Success Is Inside!
P.S. Comment and share your favorite formatting tips.