How Medical Scribes Can Decrease Physician Burnout and Increase Productivity

By Tammie Smeltz

Physicians attribute 55% of burnout to the enormous amount of time they spend on documentation. Many physicians are drowning in electronic paperwork. One of the benefits of introducing the electronic health record (EHR) was to decrease the number of hours physicians spent on documentation. In theory, this would have allowed physicians to cultivate a more meaningful work-life balance. Instead, the EHR has created additional stressors due to the volume of data-entry time required to maintain an office practice, as well as comply with healthcare payor guidelines. As a result, this has contributed to physician burnout. One way to combat this problem is to introduce a medical scribe into your office practice. 

The Joint Commission defines a medical scribe as an unlicensed individual hired to enter information into the EHR at the direction of a physician or licensed healthcare provider. Medical scribes are not new to the practice of medicine and have been used for years in the fields of emergency medicine and surgery. Since the expansion of telehealth both during and after the pandemic, physicians have begun incorporating remote medical scribes into their practice. A recent study involving remote scribes working in the primary care setting found that using a medical scribe saved physicians nearly 70 minutes of EHR time per day and reduced the chances of physician burnout by 85%.

In addition to decreasing physician burnout, the use of a medical scribe can also potentially improve your practice in several ways. Some of the ways using a medical scribe can improve your practice include:

  • Reduction of administrative burden. According to the National Academy of Medicine, healthcare providers spend double the amount of time than necessary on administrative tasks. Incorporating a medical scribe will decrease excessive workload thereby leading to increased physician productivity and job satisfaction.
  • Increased scheduling capabilities. Because scribes take care of daily tasks such as documentation and coding, this allows a physician to spend more time with patients, as well as schedule more patients throughout the day. As a result of increased patient volume, physicians may see an increase in practice revenue.
  • Cost reduction. Utilizing a remote scribe will decrease operating overhead as they do not require office space or equipment. Additionally, a remote scribe is already trained, thereby decreasing any start-up costs.
  • Better patient interactions.  According to the American Medical Association, a recent research study examining the benefits of using a medical scribe revealed better patient satisfaction. As part of the study, 735 patients were interviewed and 57% reported they appreciated their physician spending more time speaking with them and less on the computer during their visit.
  • Increased work-life balance. With additional time in the day and less stress, physicians can devote more time to enjoying life.

There are many things to consider when incorporating a scribe into your office practice. If you are contemplating training and hiring a scribe, you will have to consider start-up costs which could run around $6,000. If you decide to outsource a medical scribe, you will need to choose whether the scribe will work remotely or in the office. 

Another alternative is to cross-train your medical assistant. Pursuant to New York State Law, a medical assistant may act as a scribe. A medical assistant will record a patient’s vital signs, update their health history and schedule follow-up appointments. It is reasonable for the medical assistant to stay with the patient in the exam room, perform scribe duties and then return to the role of the medical assistant after the exam. Using a medical assistant as a scribe reduces the number of employees in the office that have access to protected health information. Additionally, medical assistants are allowed to enter orders in the medical record on behalf of a physician. This is an advantage over the traditional medical scribe. Utilizing a medical assistant as a scribe may reduce errors because they are able to review and clarify physician orders.

Regardless of your decision, you will need to ensure that your medical scribe is professionally trained and follows HIPAA guidelines.  For recommendations on how to safely incorporate a medical scribe into your office practice, review our Risk Management Tip:  The Proper Use of Scribes or contact the attorneys in the MLMIC Legal Department at any time.

Tammie Smeltz is the Content Marketing Manager at MLMIC Insurance Company.