HealthFebruary 12, 2020

The medical scribe: A doctor’s new right hand

By: Whitney J. Palmer
A medical scribe can be a valuable member of the patient care team. If you’re deciding whether to hire one, here’s what to consider.

Across the country, the medical scribe is becoming the doctor’s right hand. Different from a nurse, physician assistant or other provider, this growing profession fills a niche by assuming charting tasks that increase a physician’s workload and slow down patient care.

What are medical scribes?

Medical scribes are staff members who take over data entry and recording, freeing up the doctor to concentrate more on patients. They differ from medical transcriptionists in that scribes must identify, extract and record relevant information rather than just type what a provider says word for word. Not only do scribes specialize in data entry in both paper and electronic medical record systems, but they can also monitor and mitigate any delays with medical tests, such as blood and urine tests, X-rays and CT scans.

Multiple studies have determined that incorporating scribes into the workflow can safeguard provider satisfaction and improve efficiency in a range of settings, from rheumatology and endocrinology clinics to primary care settings to GI labs.

According to physician recruiting firm Merritt Hawkins, this field is expanding rapidly. By 2020, the industry can anticipate 100,000 positions for medical scribes. Hourly wages range from $9.45 to $17.18, with PayScale reporting an average rate of $12.33.

The benefits

If you opt to hire a scribe, doing so can present several benefits. The American Medical Association points to five ways these professionals can augment your practice.

1. Improved patient interactions

With someone else recording pertinent facts during your patient encounters, you’re more likely to engage directly with the patient and hold eye contact. In fact, more than half of 735 patients surveyed for a JAMA Internal Medicine study reported that their doctors spent less time than usual on the computer during their appointments.

2. Increased physician satisfaction

Once you’re no longer responsible for documentation, you’re freed up to pursue other leadership, teaching or personal endeavors. The overall effect can be that you’re happier in your job, according to the Annals of Family Medicine.

3. Augmented teamwork

Employing a scribe can also create a sense of cohesiveness with documentation. A sense of shared responsibility for correct documentation can create a more collaborative work environment.

4. Cost savings

By assuming clinical documentation responsibilities, medical scribes clear your schedule to see more patients, resulting in higher revenue levels. In essence, the added income created by these staffers can potentially pay for the position itself.

5. Reduced burnout

In addition to side-stepping any inherent problems within a medical record system, scribes can alleviate the administrative burden of your workload. You’ll face fewer challenges with time constraints and technical difficulties. Instead, you can focus on patient care.

The challenges

All that said, working with scribes does present some challenges. According to healthcare advisory firm Studer Group, these are issues you should address before you hire someone for this position.

1. Cost

Decide who will fund the scribe’s salary. Will it be the individual doctor they work with or will the group sign the check? You must also have a plan to address any stagnant physician performance after a scribe is hired. Without some strategic effort, you won’t recoup a scribe’s salary.

2. Training and quality

Although most scribe companies have training programs, you’ll likely need to provide additional training to meet your specific needs and preferences. Be sure they understand medical terms commonly used in your practice as well as lab and radiology orders. It can take time to ensure a medical scribe is fully prepared to thrive in your office.

3. Division of labor

Design a system for how your scribes work. Would it work better for each doctor to have a dedicated scribe or would it be best to hire a pool of scribes to be available to anyone at any time?

4. Nonconsensus

Even if you want to hire a scribe, others in your office might disagree. Discuss their concerns before deciding on the best course of action.

Working together

If you hire a medical scribe through a company, there are several steps you must follow to cement a good relationship. Again, it’s likely the scribe will receive training prior to joining your practice. For example, according to Verywell Health, many companies maintain two-week orientation courses that prepare candidates to work with physicians. During a subsequent supervisory period, an experienced medical scribe observes the training and offers review and feedback on performance. Periodic reassessments also offer opportunities to fine-tune and improve effectiveness in the workplace.

Once you have a medical scribe on staff, be sure to take steps to seamlessly integrate them into office activities. The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) recommends that you consult with billing and regulatory advisers to ensure you’re in compliance when using a scribe’s services.

In addition, the AAFP advises that both you and your scribe have individual computers. Doing so allows you to access patient records on a desktop during each encounter while the scribe records relevant details on a mobile computer. You should also make efforts to integrate scribes into your overall patient care team. Establish best practices for how to use their skill set in your office.

Ultimately, you’ll know you’ve achieved a beneficial partnership with your medical scribe when they can offer support during patient encounters. If the scribe can remind you of prior treatment plans or recommendations, ensure all visit documentation is complete and alert you to whether test results have been received or if prescriptions have been filled, you can be confident in the working relationship.

Whitney J. Palmer
Lippincott® Medicine
Lippincott is a leading international medical publisher of professional health information for practitioners, faculty, residents, students, and healthcare institutions with a full suite of essential medical products, from books and journals to digital solutions.
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