Increasing productivity

Medical scribes help ease burdens as practices go paperless

A medical scribe may be the person you’ve been looking for to help your care team be more productive.


As team-based care takes hold in the health care arena, many physicians are working more closely with nurses, PAs, and billing specialists than ever before. Increasingly, they are adding scribes to their care teams, too.

In ancient Egypt, scribes used papyrus. Modern-day medical scribes use laptops and electronic health records; physicians and practices hire them to enter information from patient encounters into EHR systems.

Nearly 1 in 5 physicians now work with medical scribes, according to Kaiser Health News. The DO recently spoke with three physicians who discussed the benefits of adding scribes to their care teams.

How scribes help physicians

Using a scribe has helped Elizabeth Hill, DO, gain back valuable time throughout her day to focus on patients.

Christine Quatro, DO, communicates with her scribes, Becky Piroga and Paul Harding, during a patient exam.

In recent years, Dr. Hill has noticed that her patients have been waiting longer to see her and presenting with more health problems, which has made the documentation process much heavier—and her scribes all the more valuable.

“Having my scribe type in the information rather than me type in every single thing helps make things go a little faster,” says Dr. Hill, a family physician in Euless, Texas.

It’s no secret that EHRs can demand the attention of physicians during patient visits.

“The adoption of EHRs caused us to focus on documentation, but working with scribes allows us to turn our focus back on patients,” says Christine Quatro, DO, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon in Hurst, Texas.

Scribes can also boost productivity. Before hiring scribes, John Kulin, DO, the CEO of Urgent Care Now in northern New Jersey, talked with his peers who had hired them. Some physicians told him their productivity had increased 25% after hiring scribes. Scribes generally charge between $8 and $16 per hour, according to PayScale, a compensation-tracking company, so the return on investment makes good business sense for some physicians.

After hiring scribes for his urgent care locations, Dr. Kulin says productivity and patient communication have both improved significantly.

“As physicians work with the scribes, the physicians are getting into the habit of going through the patient exam and saying their findings out loud in a way that’s easy for the patient to understand,” says Dr. Kulin.

Tips for hiring medical scribes

Drs. Quatro, Hill and Kulin share their insights on bringing scribes on board:

  • Talk with your peers. Speak with others who work in similar practice settings as you to get their insights on hiring scribes.
  • Partner with a scribe company. If you go this route, you won’t have to handle payroll, and if your scheduled scribe is sick, the company will send a backup person. However, you won’t always get to work with the same scribe.
  • Hire a scribe as part of your staff. Another route: You can employ a medical assistant that you train to serve as your scribe. Or, recruit local nursing or premed students. Students will be invested in medicine and eager to learn. But you will eventually face turnover once these students graduate and move on.
  • Write a job description for your scribe. Document the responsibilities and tasks for this position so the whole team is clear on expectations.
  • Provide training. Give your scribes examples of patient visits and have them document them as if in real time. Set aside time to walk them through your EHR system to make sure they understand it.
  • Expand their knowledge. Teach scribes about the illnesses you often see, and encourage them to take online coding courses.
  • Communicate. Tell your scribe everything you’re thinking and doing during a patient visit. It will help him or her better understand your thought process.

One comment

  1. Mitchell A. Cohn, DO

    I use a scribe which, luckily, I do not have to pay. She has a medical secretary certificate, EMT training, and works part-time as an MA in a surgical office – and I’m fortunate that she is also my wife. 2 days a week I also work in a 4 doctor + 2 PA office. If we had to pay for 6 scribes in addition to our already bloated 30 person staff – a good portion of which we need SOLELY for Medicare-required paperwork – and if every physician in the U.S. had to hire a full-time scribe – insurance rates would skyrocket. All we’d hear are more complaints about the costs of medical care. Dictation doesn’t work, either. Been there. Tried that. I’m open for suggestions. Personally, I still use paper and pen and just have the pages scanned into a computer. It’s still a hell of a lot more efficient when it comes to record-keeping (I’m told I keep the best records in the office) and I still actually face my patients when I speak with them AND I still have time to do a real physical exam and OMM. My only problem – which really SLOOOOWS me down? Despite hugely fast internet and a very expensive EHR, since all computerized records are stored offsite and we have triple layers of security, pages load so slowly that it takes 5-8 minutes or more just to review prior visits, labs, etc., a task which used to require less than a minute. Scribes? Great idea. Scrap the computers? Better idea … and I generally LOVE computers. They just don’t work well in a medical office.

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