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Observation, Clinical Assessment and Clinical Annotation

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An email in mid December 2014 raised the question of clinical annotation:

"Is it ClinicalAssessment the best way to model a clinical annotation instead of Observation?"

A number of email exchanges that followed showed the non clinical community appeared to have considerable confusion over the three concepts: observation, clinical assessment and annotation.

This wiki page is intended to provide some clarity from the clinical perspectives to help resolve the confusion.


  • Observation:
- Dictionary definition: "the act of watching somebody/something carefully for a period of time, especially to learn something"
- Source:


  • Clinical:
- Dictionary definitions:
- Relating to the bedside treatment of a patient or to the course of the disease
- Relating to the observed symptoms and course of a disease
- Source:

  • Clinical observation:
- Definition:
"the act of watching and obtaining information about a patient's clinical status including signs, symptoms, and course of a disease"
- HL7 Perspective:
In HL7 the "observation" ACT is actually the "act of documenting results of observation"; as such, the value that is captured in the HL7 observation is semantically equivalent to "observation result"

  • Examples of clinical observations:
- "Clinical observations include estimation of haemoglobin-oxygen saturation (SpO2, pulse oximetry), oxygen therapy, respiratory rate, heart/pulse rate, blood pressure (systolic, diastolic and mean), temperature (including measurement method), sedation and pain. In certain clinical circumstances further observations (for example neurological) may be required"
- Source:

For more details see:

* Observation vs Condition

Clinical Assessment


  • Dictionary Definition:
- Clinical assessment is "an evaluation of a patient's physical condition and prognosis based on information gathered from physical and laboratory examinations and the patient's medical history".
- Source:

  • Definition (as discussed at 2014-10-09 conference call)"
- Clinical assessment is defined as the "Process to arrive at the status (including the clinical impression of health risk or prognosis) of a patient constrained by their health concerns"
- The process includes
o Observations as determined by relevant systemic (e.g. CVS, respiratory, neurological) examination of the patient
o Use of prescribed set of standardised assessment protocols/instruments (e.g. APGAR, Glasgow Coma Scale, Mini-Mental State Examination)
(~ it is important to note that "assessment protocol/instrument" is part of the clinical assessment process and not the clinical assessment itself)
- The actual observations represent the "S" and "O" of the SOAP documentation
- The "A" in the SOAP is the documentation of the clinical analysis and reasoning or thought process based on the "S" and "O" findings of the patient's status
- The assessment reflects the conclusion of the reasoning process (which also identifies how the conclusion was reached)

  • Clinical Assessment Tool:
- A clinical assessment tool is an instrument or a set of measurements designed to evaluate a patient's clinical condition and/or to predict the risk(s) or prognosis. The measurement parameters/variables may be organised/presented as questionnaire, checklist, or scale.
- Examples:
- Fracture Risk Assessment Tool (developed by the World Health Organisation Taskforce)
- Standardized Mini Mental State Examination (SMMSE)
- Barthel Index
- International Resident Assessment Instrument (InterRAI)

Clinical Annotation