The introduction of medical scribes into the healthcare landscape has been transformational — for providers, their organizations, and the patients. Not only can these trained professionals help with time-consuming documentation of patient encounters and numerous support functions such as lab result or report tracking, scribes are also returning the joy of practice to clinicians by giving them greater opportunity to focus on their patients versus their computers.
Medical scribing is being adopted nationwide, as is a new dimension to such services in the form of virtual scribing. Essentially, virtual scribes perform the same duties as they would onsite, from standard patient encounter documentation to prompting clinicians for additional details to ensuring medical records properly reflect quality of service being rendered to patients for billing and coding purpose. The difference is that the scribe is performing his or her responsibilities remotely.
Why Use Virtual Scribes?
Onsite medical scribes are still the norm for most locations, however, there are instances when virtual assistance is utilized to augment — or replace — having a trained scribe participate in-person in the exam room. Here are some reasons why:
The facility is remote or the exam rooms lack sufficient space. While it isn’t typical, some healthcare settings present geographic limitations when it comes to staffing. Just like the challenges faced with recruiting physicians and nurses, having easy access to medical scribes can be difficult.
According to Adam Okeson, Director of Clinical Product Development at Elite Medical Scribes, virtual scribes can help fulfill operational needs and do so on a reliable, seamless basis — particularly for clinics and hospitals in a rural area. “There are remote areas throughout the nation where there isn’t a high populace, but the need for scribing still exists. Virtual scribes are able to provide high quality assistance through the use of video technology.”
The health care system needs a 100% guarantee in staffing. A common issue facing human resource-heavy organizations in healthy economy is not only finding and hiring team members, but also making sure the tasks they perform are continuously covered. Medical scribes, like other clinic employees, have occasional absences due to illness or family emergencies. An onsite scribe program can be augmented with virtual scribes to ensure shifts are always covered.
“The idea of virtual support is not new. For instance, there are remote neurologists, where if someone has had a stroke and is in the hospital, a specialized professional is called remotely, has access to information from a computer in the room, and offers consultation,” said Okeson.
“With virtual scribes, we are able to fill potential service gaps quickly and easily to achieve 100 percent coverage. The clinician can plan their patient visit schedule better because they have the most reliable service that they can get.”
The clinician prefers assistance be offsite. On rare occasion, there are clinicians who see the benefit of a medical scribe in their practice, but prefer such assistance be more remote. This can easily be accomplished with a virtual relationship in that the scribe can still be dedicated to the healthcare provider, but maintain workflow from a distance.
How Does Virtual Scribing Work?
Most virtual scribe services are nothing more than offsite transcription providers. While a transcriptionist may alleviate some documentation needs, this option is far from ideal. A qualified virtual scribe program, such as what is uniquely offered by Elite Medical Scribes, provides the same level of participation and support as onsite medical scribes.
Trained scribes accomplish identical assistance through the audio and visual capabilities of an in-room tablet equipped with a HIPAA secure video stream. The clinician introduces the scribe, just as they would if they had physically entered the room, and then places the tablet in a predetermined location that allows full viewing and hearing of the patient encounter. During the visit, the scribe fulfills their usual responsibilities such as entering in real-time information into the patient’s electronic health record.
What It Takes for a Virtual Scribe Program to Succeed
Just as with onsite medical scribes, virtual medical scribes 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. Having this type of assistance within a healthcare system can be highly effective and, as many experts predict, will likely become a standard for achieving quality care.
Establishing a virtual scribe program, or virtual supplement to an onsite scribe initiative, requires several key components.
Virtual scribing must include visualization.
As an example, Elite Medical Scribes can uniquely provide virtual scribe services anywhere in the world by performing services using advanced technology. It’s simply not enough for a medical scribe to hear what is happening during an exam. Participating in the patient encounter via video presence allows a virtual medical scribe to note clinician findings and interactions that may not always be verbal in nature. A physician, for instance, typically does not verbalize everything that they are doing or seeing. A trained scribe who can watch him or her, can capture detail that would otherwise be lost.
“What we are able to do with scribes is to make that interaction more personable where the provider can have more quality time with the patient. With virtual scribes, we are enabling an offsite professional to see, hear, and document directly into the EMR to preserve the same quality service that we have with in-person scribes,” Okeson said. “The fact that we are providing this service utilizing video viewing is both unique to Elite Medical Scribes and of high benefit to the clinicians and healthcare systems who utilize the service.”
“There are a lot of non-verbal cues that we, as scribes, are trained to pick up on. So, when the provider is examining the knee or they are pressing on the abdomen, for instance, without them telling me, I know what kind of examination they are doing and can put into the notes whether the outcome is positive or negative. A lot of where we gain information is from visual cues that we see and can accurately document.”
Specialized training must be comprehensive.
At Elite Medical Scribes, virtual scribes undergo the same rigorous training and continual development as onsite scribes. We utilize the industry’s most advanced medical scribe training program, The Elite Academy, to train our scribes to be the most effective and efficient assistants possible. This keeps our team unilaterally at the forefront of technological advancements and patient care improvements. Further, our internal preparation and documentation details a health system’s and/or clinician’s preferences. Therefore, the entire team understands necessary procedures whether they are in the clinical setting directly or virtually.
Provider training is key.
Educating clinicians to effectively use a medical scribe in their practice environment is always important — and equally so when a virtual scribe program is to begin. Elite provides a variety of materials and educational resources to help clinicians and healthcare organizations optimize their experience. As part of standard implementation process, Elite provides clinicians with educational materials (seminars, tip sheets, videos, etc.) on how to best utilize and integrate such a professional into their organization. As Okeson explained, “It’s not just important for us to train our scribes, it is also important for us to be able to train our providers in how to utilize virtual assistance to maximize the ROI.”
Patient introductions must be thorough.
How does a patient respond to having a virtual scribe participate in their clinical visit? Data shows, they are as well received as medical scribe in the room. Introduced properly by the healthcare provider, patients understand the scribe’s role and appreciate the fact that their work allows clinicians to apply greater focus to meeting patient’s health needs. As part of Elite Medical Scribes virtual program, explanatory brochures are available to share with patients who have questions.
Privacy standards must be maintained.
Any credible virtual scribe program must ensure they maintain all state and federal compliance requirements. Elite’s Virtual Scribe Program has a well thought out and vetted compliance protocol. Additionally, an audit system is utilized to analyze the clinical practices for each client partner location during the implementation stage and on an ongoing basis. This system helps to ensure compliance with regulatory and accreditation bodies such as CMS, The Joint Commission (TJC), DNV Healthcare, and Healthcare Facilities Accreditation Program (HFAP). As well, each Elite scribe – be they onsite or virtual – undergoes annual HIPAA and compliance training.
Lastly, there is an upside to virtual scribing for employment candidates as well. With this option, scribe candidates can work from home or an Elite secure remote location (Elite hub) based in the United States — an attractive benefit for those not located in a metropolitan area or who have transportation challenges.
As medical scribes became the norm across the medical practice environment, so will high quality assistance made possible through combination of training through The Elite Academy and advancements in technology.