By Audrey Landers, Intern
The idea of medical scribes can be strange to some. Even the word “scribe” brings thoughts of ancient civilizations. They almost seem like a step back in our fast-paced, technology-driven world. When it comes to patient care, however, they could be a step in the right direction. From improved communication to a drop in physician overwork, the potential of medical scribes to improve the quality of care is enormous.
Articles in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal point to the overuse of Electronic Medical Records (EMR) and poor communication as key factors in unhappy patients. From the patient’s perspective, physicians who use EMR heavily in the exam room ask fewer questions and appear uncaring. This is because EMR often requires a physician’s full attention, mean very little eye-contact and a lot of time spent with their back to the patient. It isn’t only the patients who notice the lack of communication, according to a survey by Merritt Hawkins, 48% of physicians feel that their time with patients is limited. Untrusting patients and poor communication isn’t the only problem caused by EMR. As physicians have been forced more and more to balance administrative and clinical work, burnout has risen. According to a study performed by the Mayo Clinic, 1 in 50 physicians plan to leave the medical profession in lieu of a different career path.
Medical scribes have the potential to solve both of these issues. By allowing a scribe to document patient encounters, the burden of keeping accurate records would be lifted from the physician, allowing them to focus all of their attention on their patients. While some might argue that patients may be intimidated by having an extra person in the room, it is easy enough to explain their importance in helping the physician give the best care possible.
The real issue many have with medical scribes is cost. There is no denying that it is expensive to hire an entire new employee to do a job that some administrators may see as the physician’s responsibility. In actuality, medical scribes can help a practice save money and time. One 2013 study found that scribes can allow a practice to save as much as $2,398 per patient with the time cut from each appointment, as well as the extra patients that each physician and scribe team is able to see. This money does not come at the cost of patient satisfaction either, as practices that use scribes find that their patients are happier. Because the physician is able to give the patient their full attention, more patients leave feeling satisfied with their service.