The form fields that are selected for each question will determine the quality of a form and the quality of the data you collect in your EHR software. It’s important that you understand each of the different field types to make sure you’re selecting the one that works best for your purposes.
Play-Doh has been a favorite with young children (and stressed out adults) since its creation in the 1930s. And there’s a reason for that – it can take whatever form the individual wants it to. Play-Doh can become a snake, a pizza, or even just a ball. Its flexibility is one of its most enjoyable qualities.
It’s the same concept with free text boxes. A free text box can take whatever form the form user needs it to. Some might include one word, while others might use all the characters available to them. The free text box also gives the form user the opportunity to really expand upon their thoughts.
But if you try to file all your Play-Doh sculptures by exactness, you will inevitably have one per file. Unless you’re THAT good!
To Use or Not to Use
To use free text fields effectively, there are specific instances when you should and shouldn’t use them.
Free text fields are most effective when they’re used as the conditional result of an “other” option from a single dropdown. Form users can expand upon why the other single select options were not a good fit for them. Then the free text fields can be manually reviewed to gain insight and see if there are other single select options that should be added.
Free text fields are also helpful for clinicians to take notes about their client’s progress. To track progress, they’ll still need to track their developments quantitatively, but having a qualitative record to look back on is a helpful resource.
On the other hand, the largest issue with free text fields are that they aren’t reportable. You can’t organize the data in a reliable format when using free text fields. This is why free text data should only be used as a supplement to quantitative data, as much as is feasibly possible.
And don’t forget about size
The size of the free text box is also an important decision. When someone is filling out your form, they will use the size of the text box as a guideline. Even if your text box holds unlimited characters, if it’s small, you generally won’t get very long responses.
With proper planning, free text boxes can be a valuable addition to your form. But, if you only rely on them for your reporting needs, you’ll find yourself in a situation worse than when you tried to get Play-Doh out of the carpet.