Medical Scribes: Myths and Realities

Role Medical Scribes Play in Family MedicineMedical scribes are a growing asset to health systems and medical practices across the country. Like many innovations within the industry, however, there can be misconceptions. Here are a few of the most common assumptions – and the realities.

Scribes are only for Orthopedic practices.

False. It’s true that medical scribes are perceived by some to only be affiliated with Emergency Department or Orthopedic practices. It’s not uncommon, for instance, for a Family Medicine physician to feel that a scribe can’t be helpful because there are too many conditions and diagnoses to chronicle. In reality, scribes have been in use — with great success — in numerous specialties.

At Elite Medical Scribes, for instance, we help address the unique needs of more than 30 medical specialties – including our fastest growing focus area, Family Medicine, wherein we are helping clinicians increase efficiency, optimize reimbursement, and improve clinician and patient satisfaction. Physician burnout and the challenges of hiring are significant. Implementing a scribe program can address these situations.

We understand the unique issues of primary care and help provide solutions within daily operations. Our scribes are trained to be the most effective and efficient assistants possible, skilled in specialty-specific terminology, physical examination techniques, differential diagnoses, medications, and ICD-10/coding and billing.

The ramp-up for a scribe program is just too long in a health system.

False. Ramp-up can, and should, be a process that is efficient and smooth. This is best facilitated by experience, clear process, and adequate planning.

Proper training and preparation is an essential component of a successful scribe program – but it doesn’t begin when the scribe walks through the clinician’s door.

The innovative scribe training program designed by Elite Medical Scribes, called the Elite Academy, offers cutting-edge knowledge and training for medical scribes. We utilize world-class technology to provide an immersive medical scribe training experience, that includes real-time feedback and coaching from professional instructors with real-world scribe experience. Accurate and complete charting, billing and coding knowledge, and typing speed are all measured and coached to ensure superior results. Scribe candidates must, in fact, complete and pass several rounds of testing to advance.

Besides preparing scribes prior to service, it is essential to fully understand the needs of individual clinicians and their health systems to ensure onsite integration is thorough and smooth. Therefore, proper onboarding typically encompasses clinician introductory training and preference documentation so the assigned scribes are fully productive as rapidly as possible. 

Patients will never accept another person in the exam room.

False. Patients typically have no more issues with having a medical scribe in the room than a nurse or a medical assistant. It’s important for patients to understand the scribes role, however. Scribes differ from medical transcriptionists, who type up dictated reports. Scribes document medical encounters in real time by entering information into the electronic medical record (EMR), they record the physical exam, patient medical history, clinician’s diagnosis, recommended treatments, and more. They may also perform other tasks, such as tracking down test results, typing discharge forms, and  scheduling follow-up visits.

Scribes are trained to work quickly and quietly, allowing their clinicians to spend a greater amount of time listening to their patients. As a result, patients often forget another person is even in the room.

At Elite, we are able to provide custom branded patient education brochures for our client partners to use within their clinics and departments, if they feel the necessity to further explain the scribes’ role. Communicating the benefits of medical scribes with patients helps ensure overall patient satisfaction and improves the quality of care.

Scribes are a threat to patient privacy.

False. Just as your own employees are required to meet strict standards of confidentiality, so are medical scribes obtained from reputable vendor. At Elite Medical Scribes, for instance, we utilize an Incident Reporting and Audit system to analyze the clinical practices at each of our client partner locations. This tool helps to ensure compliance with regulatory and accreditation bodies such as CMS, The Joint Commission (TJC), DNV Healthcare, and Healthcare Facilities Accreditation Program (HFAP). The dynamic nature of the program provides for collaboration between multiple company divisions, bringing the most up-to-date solutions to all of our clients.

Each Elite Medical Scribe also undergoes annual HIPAA and compliance training. The fact is, students become medical scribes because they want a future career in the field. They are trained — and committed — to upholding the high standards of patient privacy.

Scribes are short-term.

True. Medical scribes are not intended to be long term employees, but rather a dedicated, temporary form of professional assistance. Scribes are typically students who are in their upper undergraduate years or in their gap year preparing for medical school applications. The average duration of employment as a scribe is a year to 24 months per individual. Because a scribe works closely with his or her clinician, they frequently develop a mentoring relationship wherein the healthcare provider learns about the student’s long term goals and helps them along their pathway. When a scribe eventually leaves to begin graduate education, a quality medical scribe service ensures that the transition is smooth. At Elite Medical Scribes, for instance, our standardized training and systems mean that new scribes can be introduced to ensure seamless continuation of service.

Physicians may not know how to manage scribes.

True. For many clinicians, working with a scribe is a new experience. That’s why it is as critical to educate the facility team on the best practices of working with scribes, as it is to train the scribes themselves. At Elite Medical Scribes, we provide clinicians with educational seminar opportunities, tip sheets, videos, etc. on how to best utilize and integrate a medical scribe into their practice. Our trainers work one-on-one with them during the first few days of onsite implementation to understand and document their preferences, educate on the most effective use of scribes, and assist with optimizing new clinician-scribe relationship. In our experience, healthcare providers quickly realize the benefits of utilizing scribes and readily learn how to integrate them into their practice setting.

Students simply don’t have the training for this type of work.

True. Untrained, pre-medical students and those in their gap year are not prepared for the complexity of today’s medical practice environment. That’s why it is important to select a medical scribe service that adequately prepares students for this important role.

Some health systems have attempted to create a home-grown version of a scribe service. Like students, typical employees do not have the critical training necessary to smoothly step into the position of medical scribe. Such a role requires exceptionally thorough education and continual performance oversight by experienced medical scribe management specialists. 

A scribe program is cost-prohibitive.

False. Implementing a scribe program is an investment, but one that can quickly net a return on investment. At Elite Medical Scribes, we understand the need to achieve – and demonstrate – financial return for our clients. As the case study illustration below shows, the time and efficiency savings a medical scribe program provides allows most clinicians to see additional patients in their workday. Clinicians also spend more time listening and interacting with patients rather than typing and reading through their charts.

Family Medicine Statistics

Equally as important, work-life balance improves. Gaining back “joy of practice” increases retention, as does patient satisfaction. Many health systems also use the availability of medical scribes as a healthcare provider hiring incentive – something that can reduce the search process and enable more rapid revenue realization. 

It’s possible to begin a medical scribe program through a trial effort.

True. Some health systems who have not had medical scribes in the past prefer to begin a scribe service relationship through design of a limited scope engagement. For instance, you may wish to implement scribes within a certain specialty area or, instead, designate scribes for certain physicians only across several departments. At Elite Medical Scribes, this has been a frequent request and one that we embrace as a way of mutual learning and demonstrating return on investment.

You need to retain a large firm if you decide to employ scribes.

False. The quality of a medical scribe service is far more important than the size of the firm. When selecting a service, it’s important to do your due diligence. When considering a prospective scribe vendor, evaluate their and, importantly, which specialties they cover. Research their management. Unlike other scribe providers, for instance, Elite Medical Scribes’ ownership includes a Family Medicine physician who is integrally involved in training development and operations. Ask for details about the thoroughness of their scribe training program, quality assurance protocol, and oversight. The answers to questions like these will provide far greater insight than simply making a judgment based on organizational size.

For further information about how a medical scribe program could benefit your health system or practice, contact us.

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