From The Horse’s Mouth: What Scribes Are For

Posted on July 24, 2012 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare editor and analyst with 25 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

If you’re like me — and from your comments, I sense you are — most of you don’t think too highly of the scribe concept. The idea, as presented at trade shows, involves an assistant running the EMR stuff while the doctor has a patient encounter.  To many, it seems to many to be a bad temporary patch on a bad situation.

Well, that might be true in some cases, but in others, scribes do a lot more, even in situations where a hospital or clinic doesn’t have an EMR at all. That’s the good word from Scott Hagood, director of business development at Fort Worth, TX-based PhysAssist Scribes (www.iamscribe.com). PhysAssist  has been in business about 17 years and has about 700 scribes in place around the U.S., largely working in emergency departments.

While EMR use is increasingly becoming a part of their scribes’ job, the company began among a single group of ED physicians who wanted help making their practice run more smoothly.  The scribes not only took medical notes, they also performed a wide variety of clerical tasks, such as digging up radiology films and checking with nurses to see if a patient was ready to see the doctor.

That’s still the case today, he says: “EMRs are certainly the biggest reason why scribing is growing today, but over time it’s been the assistance that they provide in improving physicians’ productivity. Clerical flow support is critical.”

Hagood’s scribes are largely pre-med students, or at least some form of pre-health industry student, who work a year to 18 months then move on in their careers. PhysAssist trains the scribes in process, terminology and technology at a facility in Fort Worth, including detailed training on the EMR they’re going to use.

So, the big question for many readers is probably “How much does this cost?”  Hagood said that the scribes make more than minimum wage but less than a medical assistant, though he said numbers vary depending on what part of the country they’re serving. (PA doesn’t charge a placement fee.)  Bottom line, they’re not doing it for the fabulous cash.

But Hagood says that this approach has worked very well over time, since the pre-med students PhysAssist recruits are very motivated to learn the jargon and excited to be getting hospital experience.  “We just keep hiring very bright people, losing them and starting all over again,” Hagood says. “That’s the way our business works.”