GUIDELINES FOR WRITE-UPS
The purpose of the write-up is
To record your patient's story in a concise and well-organized manner.
To demonstrate your clinical reasoning and decision making to other providers
To demonstrate your fund of knowledge and problem solving skills.
Although there is no single authority on write-ups, these guidelines will help you avoid common
mistakes. Further specific feedback from your teachers will illustrate the diversity of styles used in
the successful write-up.
The Length and Structure
The overall length should be 3-5 pages. Here is a suggested detail for each component of the write
Source of Information (1/2 line)
Chief Complaint (1-2 line)
History of Present Illness (1/2 to 1 page)
Past Medical History (list)
Family History (5 lines)
Social History (5-10 lines)
ROS (1/4-1/2 page)
Physical Examination (1/2-11/2 pages)
Laboratory (1/4-1/2 page)
Assessment/Plan (1-11/2 pages)
History of Present Illness (HPI): The history of present illness can be viewed as a hypothesis generating statement. The
first paragraph should make clear to the reader theprimary hypothesis (or hypotheses) that oneis considering as an
explanation of the patients presentingcomplaint(s). Thesecond paragraph should make clear to the reader the alternative
hypotheses that oneis considering by means of providing additional pertinent negatives / positives that may alternatively
explain the patients presentingcomplaint(s).
The following is a basic structureof the HPI.
The Topic Sentence
The topic sentence should begin with identifying information. Include the patient's
Country of origin or race if relevant
Other social/demographic info if relevant
Other active and relevant medical problems
- no more than four
- must be critical to understanding the chief complaint or will influence the management of the
Summary of the chief complaint
''Mr. Jones is a 54 yo man with a history of a recent umbilical hernia repair who presents with
nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain.''
(acute and latent complications arise from prior abdominal surgery)
''Mrs Evans is a 62 yo woman with diabetes and steroid dependent COPD who presents with
dysuria and hematuria.''
(diabetes and lung disease will require active management in the hospital)
''Mr. Smith is a 45 yo man with a remote history of diverticulitis who presents with a swollen leg.''
(diverticulitis is neither active nor relevant and belongs in the PMH)
Next describe the story chronologically. If you believe that the chief complaint (chest pain) may be
the direct extension of his ongoing chronic problem (recurrent PE's s/p leg trauma), then begin the
HPI with the chronic problem.
''Mr. Womack is a 45 yo man with a history of recurrent pulmonary emboli (PE) who presents with
chest pain. Two years prior to admission, he suffered a compound femur fracture from a motor
vehicle accident. He course was complicated by a PE. He since has been treated with coumadin
and has demonstrated noncompliance with the medication leading to two subsequent admissions
for PE. He was in his usual state of health until,...''
Pay attention to detail. The well-characterized history includes
Setting of the complaint
Progressive/stable or improving
Any prior episodes
Aggravating or alleviating features
''...He was in his usual state of health until today when, while sitting in a chair, he developed the
abrupt onset of a diffuse left anterior chest pain without radiation, associated with shortness of
breath. The pain was 5/10, described as sharp and constant. It was unaffected by position.''
Include pertinent negatives so that the reader is influenced to think in terms of your differential
''...There was no fever, cough, sputum, chest pressure, nausea, vomiting, bloating, or
hematemesis. He has no prior history of trauma to the chest, prior coronary artery disease or
The pertinent negatives reflect the differential diagnosis. Other causes of chest pain to consider in
this case are pneumonia (fever, cough, sputum), coronary artery disease (radiating chest
pressure, nausea), peptic ulcer disease (nausea, vomiting, hematemesis), anxiety or
Only negative statements belong in the pertinent negatives section. If you discover that your
patient has not been taking his coumadin, you would tell the story chronologically.
''... He has not been taking his coumadin over the last three weeks. He was in his usual state of
health until today when...''
If Evaluated Elsewhere and Transferredto Your Service
Key events from outside evaluations are placed in the concluding remarks of the HPI.
''...Because these symptoms did not improve and were similar to prior PE's that he experienced,
he went to his local physician who hospitalized him at St. Mary's Hospital. Evaluation there
revealed a swollen left lower extremity, a sub-therapeutic prothrombin time and a moderate
probability VQ scan. He was given the diagnosis of PE and transferred to our hospital for further
Relevant data collected before your evaluation (or the Emergency Department evaluation) even if
it includes physical findings and labs, belongs in the concluding remarks of the HPI. Alternatively,
this data may be incorporated into the chronology for the patients HPI if it is relevant to the story
and helps build the hypothesis being constructed in the first paragraph.
Past Medical History
Include all medical problems (active or remote). We suggest that you order the problems outline
the problems from the most pertinent to the least pertinent to the issues of the current illness.
1. Recurrent PE's, see HPI
2. Noncompliance with coumadin, see HPI
3. MVA with left leg fracture
4. Cellulitis, group A streptococcal bactermia, no recurrences
6. T&A as a child*
If Mr. Womack was admitted for lower abdominal pain with a differential including small bowel
obstruction, then the appendectomy would take higher priority in the PMH listing and be
mentioned in the HPI.
* You may list prior surgeries in a separate section or record them in order of pertinence to the
current presentation with the other medical problems
Certain diseases require listing of pertinent positives and negatives in the PMH. Your residents can
1. COPD: diagnosed 1995, never required steroids, never intubated, hospitalized x 2 for
exacerbations in ( ) and ( ), ( ) PFTs FEV1 1.8L, FEV1/FVC 0.65.
2. DM: diagnosed 1997, oral hypoglycemics, Hgb A1C 1999 8.2, no micro- or macro- vascular
3. CAD: s/p PTCA of LAD 1998, angina equivalent is chest pressure with exertion, 2 NTG tabs a
month, cath 2000: 70% LAD stenosis, 30% circumflex stenosis, no wall motion abnormalities (or
last echo showed,...)
Other items to include in the Past Medical History, as taught in physical diagnosis:
medications (record doses)
allergies (list reaction experienced)
childhood illnesses and immunizations if pertinent
Construct a family tree. Specify whether there is a family history of DM, HTN, cancer, heart
disease, or illness similar to the HPI.
Include social support, occupation, education, travel, and sexual history.
Review of Systems
Listing, rather than using subject and verbs, is preferred. Remember, pertinent positive and
negative symptoms dealing with the present illness belong in the HPI, not the ROS.
Listing, rather than using subjects and verbs, is preferred.
A commonly used order is:
When the differential is unknown
State the problem, which usually is a symptom, sign, or abnormal laboratory result or diagnosis.
List a differential diagnosis. State which diagnosis is most likely and why, drawing from the
information from your recorded history and physical. State why other diagnoses in the differential
are less likely. Discuss the plan. ''I favor the diagnosis of PE because,... I believe that pneumonia
is less likely given the CXR,...''
When the differential is known
Your discussion should focus on causes of the condition or controversies in management. Your
resident or attending can assist you in tailoring the discussion to meet your learning needs.
When the patient has multiple problems to discuss
Again, your resident or attending can help you to determine how to organize you're A&P. For
example, you have a patient with COPD, pneumonia, and uncontrolled DM. Since you have had
many patients with COPD exacerbation, you decide not to discuss COPD. Instead, you argue that
the pneumonia likely led to the COPD exacerbation and uncontrolled glucose readings, then you
expand your discussion with a review of pneumonia pathogens in this population. You conclude
with your plans to pursue further diagnosis (sputum culture) and provide therapy (bronchodilators,
antibiotics, IVF's, and insulin).
Pertinent Negatives are Omitted - This section is difficult and requires that we thoroughly
understand the differential diagnosis of our patient's complaint.
Related complaints are discussed separately in the HPI - A patent with expanding ascites may
experience simultaneous dyspnea, abdominal pain, and edema. To discuss these three symptoms
as separate problems in the HPI is a mistake. Ask for direction from your resident or attending if
you are unsure whether symptoms are related.
Long narrative descriptions of physical signs - use listing, omit subjects and verbs.
Inattention to detail - A ''soft systolic ejection murmur'' is inferior to ''a 1/6 midsystolic murmur at
the left sternal border, without radiation that decreases with Valsalva.''
List of unfamiliar abbreviations - When in doubt spell out the word.
Recording a diagnosis instead of a finding in the physical exam - Writing ''findings consistent with
RLL pneumonia'' is inferior to ''right posterior base with increased fremitus, dullness to percussion
and bronchial breath sounds.''
Incomplete Assessment and Plan - ''Hematemesis - probably varices. Plan T&C 4 units, 2 16g IV's,
consult GI'' is only appropriate when you are an experienced house officer on a busy call night. As
a third year clerk, you should become a scholar on your patient's problems and demonstrate this
in your assessment, discussing a complete differential diagnosis, separating likely from unlikely
diagnoses, and emphasizing a reason behind your plan.