Taking a Fresh Look at Medical Scribes

By Sal Casillas

Can a new approach to traditional medical scribes create career development opportunity in your medical group while helping your doctors see more patients?

Medical scribes surged in popularity when the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act mandated healthcare’s switch to electronic health records (EHR). Using a rotating cast of pre-med students to transcribe and document medical exams was seen as an effective stop-gap measure for medical group executives managing physicians resistant to or struggling with the technology. Nearly a decade later, EHR is mainstream in American healthcare, technology has improved usability and dictation software has made advances. Scribes are often seen as an outdated and inefficient solution, with high turnover as a major barrier. However, a fresh strategy for using medical scribes is emerging that can deliver win-win value for your group practice.

“…research shows a medical scribe can increase the ability of a physician to see, on average, one additional patient an hour.”

Traditional medical scribes are pre-med students awaiting acceptance to medical school. The initial time commitment and investment to train the medical scribe can be substantial. Then, just when the pre-med student is trained and builds a relationship with the physician — becoming a valuable contributor to the medical team — they quickly move on from their medical scribing position. Despite this turnover, Medscape calls medical scribes one of “medicine’s best-kept secrets”:

“At the end of the training program, research shows a medical scribe can increase the ability of a physician to see, on average, one additional patient an hour. One more patient covers the cost of a scribe and saves the doctor up to two hours of typing a day.”

A different strategy for medical providers has been developed by the American Healthcare Documentation Professionals Group (AHDPG) where a medical group trains their existing medical assistant staff to work as medical scribes. In four weeks with 80 hours of training, AHDPG can certify a medical assistant into a long-term scribing role. With this approach, a medical practice not only creates a scribe resource to assist tech-averse physicians but also builds loyalty among staff and reduces medical scribe turnover by hiring within the practice.

“Every medical staff wants to improve their performance and wants to grow, learn and become more valuable to themselves as well as their medical practice,” said Bob Harvey of American Healthcare Documentation Professionals. “Medical assistants are waiting for room to grow. Developing them into medical scribes leads to a positive working environment among the scribe, physician and the relationships with patients.”

A healthy physician-scribe relationship can also go beyond transcription. A medical scribe can help with reminding “physicians of treatment plans and other recommendations from previous visit notes and provide a check-and-balance system to ensure visit documentation requirements are met, test results are received and prescriptions are refilled.”

Medical group administrators wanting to help tech-averse physicians succeed should take a second look at their options for medical scribes. By focusing on professional development and training for existing medical assistant staff, this untraditional approach to medical scribes doesn’t just help physicians see more patients each day. Recruiting new staff is expensive, stressful and time-consuming. Once a great medical staff member is identified, it pays to make sure they stay. With building your own team of trained medical scribes, you may be able to see your practice performance improve while also boosting staff retention.