September 4, 2019

Patient Age Display (EHR Conventions)


The display of the patient age is different from the patient birth date.

The patient age is a summary value based on the date of birth. The display of this statement varies depending upon how long they have been alive.

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Display of Age

The age to display for a patient varies from babies to adults. The NHS CUI has a carefully thought out scale that considers this. I think it is reasonable to mirror their age display scale.


From  NHS CUI, Patient Banner 2015
View fullsizeFrom NHS CUI, Patient Banner 2015

Age Display

There are different ways to display the units associated with the age.

The chart below represents several different ways to display the age.

Example 1: shows NHS CUI guidelines. The details behind their conventions are in further detail on (Patient Age Display, existing standards)

There is some concern that Example 1 is too abbreviated for some users, and that it is more clear to read the age number when there is a space between the number and unit.

Therefore, for now, I’d recommend Example 4 - Partial Abbreviation, when displaying the age unit. Therefore the current proposed units for age are:

when displayed by itself:  min    hour    day    week   month   yr

when displayed with a second age unit:  d   wk   mo  yr

with a space between the unit and the number.

Please note: we have not had opportunity yet to run these variations in user tests to bring more objective data to this.

Screen Shot 2019-09-04 at 9.53.39 PM.png
View fullsize

The NHS CUI Time Display document also explains their rational for the use of no space between the age display value and the age display unit. This is to (1) save space and (2) in the case of age display requiring a lower and higher unit (e.g. 4w 1d), having no space between the value and the unit makes it more clear which go together. As opposed to having a white space (e.g. 4 w 1 d ) where it less clear which values go with which unites). This sounds fine with me.

Where to display the patient’s age

It is often desirable to display the patient’s age alongside their Birth Date. When this is done, the age should be shown in parenthesis. Some examples:  

16-Jun-1983 (36 yr)

Born 04-Jul-2014 (5 yr 2 mo)

04-Jul-2014 (5 yr 2 mo)

Note: the label shown is “Born”. Do not use “DoB” or “dob” because screen readers have problems with this. Do not use “Date of birth” it is too long. Use of the word Born is in line with NHS CUI guidelines.

Alternatively, the label Age could be used

Age 36 yr, 16-Jun-1983

Age 36 yr

Deceased Patient

If the patient is deceased, the age is not shown in parenthesis after their Birth Date.

See document: Deceased Patient Display (EHR Convention) [document pending] for conventions regarding how to display the Date Died and Age at Death

Out of scope

At this time, the display of the age of patients with an estimated or approximate birth date is out of scope. This will be re-examined when the FHIR and OpenMRS data models have been more investigated in more detail to see what is possible.

Thanks to Daniel Burka and Brandon Istenes for their feedback.

From the series Building the EHR

Section: Conventions / Patient Age Display

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