Scribes: The Physician’s New Right Hand

Nic Curry

Nic Curry

Project Analyst, Healthcare Analysis

Published November 29, 2012

The physician I work with calls me his “right hand man”.

As the worlds of software technology and medicine continue to become more intertwined, scribes are playing an important role in the transition to electronic medical record (EMR) systems in the emergency room. EMRs are a solution for the future in saving time and money in healthcare. Based on my experience as a scribe, I can see that scribes are a bridge to the future between the medical world and the software world.

The purpose of scribes in the emergency room, according to Jason Ruben, MD, is to document treatments at the physician’s direction so that the doctor can focus on patient care. The physician I work with says that, thanks to my work, he “goes home on time.” This is because I save him hours he would have to put in charting at the end of his shift.

Such time savings adds up throughout the entire Acute Care Continuum. We scribes have increased the total number of patients my hospital sees, because we allow physicians to spend less time on lab reports and other administrative duties.

In the ED it’s all about time, and scribes help with getting things done and documented quickly. An example of time saved is the succinct interaction and quicker follow up when lab results are available online. It only takes a scribe a minute to print out lab results, x-ray results, or discharge instructions. The scribe makes them immediately available and usable when they are needed. Each of these activities can save a minute or two. If there are up to ten steps for each ER patient that can equal a savings of 10-20 minute per patient. If the average number of patients seen per shift is 20, that comes to at least an hour and a half per shift. This can be seen as a quantitative return on investment with scribes. And without scribes, this time “spent on paperwork and not patient care” can affect patient care as well.

My hospital still uses paper charting and I have seen that the team of scribes has added a lot of value just for being “computer savvy” during the transition. I often see scribes get comfortable with the EMR after just a few hours of playing around with system. For those who did not grow up in the computer age, working with EMR is almost like learning a new language. If someone does not have a strong computer background it can be really difficult to get the maximum use of the EMR system.

Right now scribes and EMR are just emerging and the transition to new computer systems will continue to grow and change this industry. Scribes can also play a role in making the products better. A scribe would be first person EMR companies can call with questions on changes or adjustments and how to implement them. Scribes are young and motivated and brought up with computers and want to make a difference. I must say it’s been really rewarding to get a chance to make a difference at my hospital, and for the physician I work with, they say it’s rewarding to get home in time for dinner (or breakfast as it may be in the Acute Care Continuum).

Partnering to improve patient lives

Vituity branding orange wave pattern background