A recent article in the Los Angeles Times highlighted the use of pre-med students and other college students who want to pursue careers in medicine or nursing as “medical scribes” to accompany physicians during patient appointments. These scribes carry laptop computers to enter treatment plans into electronic medical records software programs as well as follow ups on prescriptions, lab tests, consultations with specialists and anything else that the physicians instruct.
One of the big hurdles for physician groups and for companies that sell EMR systems is the challenge of the adaptation process for doctors to have to learn to use and incorporate the data entry for patients during in-office appointments. Lots of downward pressure from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and the commercial insurance companies that follow the lead of the CMS is pushing medical groups toward the seemingly inevitable adoption and use of electronic medical records but this transition is anything but smooth.
The rationale for use of medical scribes is that it is great training for future doctors and nurses that many may be willing to take on at a relatively low level of compensation (as low as $8 to $10 per hour with no benefits) and it increases doctor productivity and job satisfaction that produces a financial benefit that more than compensates for the cost of paying the scribes.
The further argument is made that this system makes it easier for doctors to bill properly for all the services they provide and allows them to see more patients, further increasing their revenue productivity as an offset for the cost of the scribes. Whether or not that turns out to be accurate still remains to be proven but the use of scribes is currently being tested in emergency departments of quite a number of hospitals and academic medical centers that have been particularly hard hit by the pressures of seeing more patients and utilizing EMR systems.
It will be interesting to monitor the extent to which private practice medical groups will test and adopt the use of medical scribes to keep their physicians more productive and happy in their treatment of patients. It’s likely that hospital-owned physician groups may be earlier adopters of this model, particularly if it proves to be cost effective.
We welcome feedback from physicians who are already working with medical scribes as well as those who don’t regarding this trend.