Practice Management

Hospitalist groups explore use of medical scribes

Can scribes reduce doctors’ job stress?


 

Physician stress and burnout remain major concerns for the U.S. health care system, with frustrations over the electronic health record (EHR) driving much of the dissatisfaction experienced by hospitalists and other physicians in the hospital.1 Underlying the EHR conundrum is a deeper question: Is entering clinical data on a computer the best use of a doctor’s time and professional skills? Or could a portion of that clerical function be delegated to nonphysicians?

Trained medical scribes, charting specialists who input EHR data for physicians on rounds, have been offered as a solution to potentially affect job stress for physicians and shorten their work days. But while scribes have been used and tested by different hospitalist groups around the country, the concept has not taken off in hospital medicine the way it has in certain other settings, such as emergency departments.

“The demand for scribes doesn’t seem to have materialized in a big way for hospital medicine,” said John Nelson, MD, MHM, a hospitalist and consultant in Bellevue, Wash., and a cofounder of the Society of Hospital Medicine. “I’m not convinced that scribes have had a big impact on hospitalist burnout.” It’s difficult to share scribes between doctors on a shift, and it’s a problem if the scribe and doctor get physically separated in the hospital. There’s also the question of who should pay the scribe’s salary, Dr. Nelson said.

Frustrations with the EHR can be a major factor in the experience of physician burnout, but Dr. Nelson said hospitalists can get proficient more quickly because they’re using the same computer system all day. “The bigger problem is that other doctors like surgeons don’t learn how to use the EHR and dump their routine tasks involving the EHR on the hospitalist, which means more work that is less satisfying.”

Could pairing a scribe with a hospitalist improve efficiency and decrease costs relative to the expense of employing the scribe? Are there specific settings, applications, and caseloads in hospital medicine where it makes more sense to use a scribe to support and assist doctors while they’re meeting with patients, with the doctor reviewing and editing the scribe’s work for accuracy? Could the scribe even help with physician staffing shortages by making doctors more productive?

Dr. Michael Corvini, regional medical director of acute care services for TeamHealth, a national physician services company based in Knoxville, Tenn.

Dr. Michael Corvini

TeamHealth, a national physician services company based in Knoxville, Tenn., has used scribes in emergency departments for years but had concluded that they made less sense for its hospitalist groups after a failure to document significant net increases in productivity, according to a 2015 report in The Hospitalist.2 Michael Corvini, MD, FACP, FACEP, TeamHealth’s new regional medical director for acute care services, said he brought extensive positive experience with scribes to his new job and is quite excited about their potential for hospital medicine. “When I came to TeamHealth in July, I began to suggest that there was unrealized potential for scribes,” he said.

Dr. Corvini noted that a potential benefit of scribes for patients is that their presence may allow for more face time with the doctor. Providers, relieved of worrying about completing the chart in its entirety would be more able to focus on the patient and critical thinking. There are even benefits for scribes themselves. Often scribes are medical students, and those who are interested in pursuing a future in the health professions gain invaluable experience in the workings of medicine. “They are making a real contribution to patient care. They are a member of the health care team,” he said.

Dr. Corvini sees two primary areas in which scribes can contribute to hospital medicine. The first is shadowing the physician who is admitting patients during a high-volume admissions shift. Regular tasks like capturing the patient’s medication list and populating the History and Physical document lend themselves well to data entry by scribes, in contrast to completing more routine daily progress notes, which does not.

“They can also be helpful when there is a major transition from paper charting to the EHR or from one EHR system to another, when there is a lot of stress on the physician and risk for lost billing revenue,” Dr. Corvini said. “If scribes are trained in a particular EHR, they could help teach the physician how to use it.” TeamHealth is now in the process of running a trial of scribes at one of its sites, and the organization plans to measure productivity, provider satisfaction, and HCAHPS patient satisfaction scores.

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