Medical scribes… A low-tech solution to a high-tech problem?

In my medical practice, I frequently find myself balancing conflicting priorities of accurate, comprehensive documentation versus face-to-face time with my patients, gathering information and making shared treatment plans.

I’m an advocate for electronic medical records, but these have only made the documentation process more cumbersome. I frequently have to wait until I can find and log-in to a computer before I can complete my work, and in a busy day this time comes at the expense of my time with patients.

The introduction of medical records may have many benefits, but data-entry is difficult and time-consuming for everyone – not only for physicians who can’t type. While introducing electronic records productivity can drop by 30%, and it is estimated that physicians now spend up to two-thirds of their time on clerical work that could be done by others.

Medical ScribeI’ve often thought of the perfect scenario, where relevant clinical documentation is generated without interrupting my time with patients, and available in real-time in an electronic medical record. Apparently, I’m not the only one.

Some physicians in the United States now employ medical scribes who act like the physician’s right hand – documenting encounters in real-time and freeing up physicians to focus on patient care. There are even companies specialized in training and providing scribes to hospitals and medical clinics.

Perhaps future technology will be intelligent enough to generate appropriate documentation on the fly, without disturbing the workflow of medical staff. But until then, employing scribes more widely seems like a great low-tech solution to a high-tech problem.

References:

  • A Busy Doctor’s Right Hand, Ever Ready to Type. The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/14/health/a-busy-doctors-right-hand-ever-ready-to-type.html?_r=0
  • Scribes are doctors’ tech support. Los Anglese Times. http://articles.latimes.com/2010/sep/06/health/la-he-medical-scribes-20100906