Scribes can ease burden of data entry for physicians

Reaction on the widespread implementation of electronic health records continues to roll in with many studies and reports focused on quantifying the impact that EHR systems have when it comes to identifying undiagnosed conditions that may otherwise be missed without interoperable stores of medical data. Later stages of meaningful use are expected to emphasize this interconnected nature of health information even more, which may lead to greater advances in patient care.

For a majority of physicians, however, the transition has not been a smooth one. While EHR systems have largely been accepted as a valuable tool that physicians can rely on to supplement their initial diagnoses, the software has experienced something along the lines of growing pains when it comes to ease of use. While paperwork may have always been a facet of the doctor's job in decades past, many physicians see EHR systems as an exponential increase in the amount of administrative work that they must now complete.

However, as EHR software continues to improve, many doctors have looked to alternate methods in an attempt to shift their focus away from their tablets and smartphones and back to the patients. Meaningful use requirements necessitate that patient data be input into EHR systems, though, so practices around the country have begun hiring scribes – dedicated assistants who handle all data entry – to ease the burden on physicians.

Mixed reactions
According to a survey conducted by the RAND Corporation that polled the opinions of physicians who employ EHR systems in their practices, several factors combined to create a user-unfriendly experience for doctors. At the top of the list were complaints regarding the time physicians must take out of their day to ensure that all necessary fields are completed for EHR software, the high degree of difficulty surrounding everyday use of the systems and the degree to which physicians had to split their attentions between the software and patients during appointments and observations.

Moreover, the RAND report did not initially seek to gather opinions strictly on EHR systems. Rather, physicians volunteered these statements on their own, further coloring their statements that EHR systems have affected their traditional roles as caregivers.

A new solution
Given the intense reaction that physicians show not to the effectiveness of EHR systems as a medical tool, but to their ease of use, some physicians have turned to scribes as a way to decrease the burden of data entry that many see as a main drawback of the software.

In a profile of the new trend of dedicated assistants in charge of all patient data entry, The New York Times asked several doctors how being freed from EHR responsibilities has changed their day-to-day operations.

"Having a scribe has been life-changing," Jennifer Sewing, M.D., a family medicine practitioner based in St. Louis, told The New York Times. 

"With a scribe, I can think medically instead of clerically," Marian Bednar, M.D., said.

Not only did these and other physicians indicate that they were less dependent on their mobile device of choice to input data to an EHR system, but that they were also able to spend more time interacting with a patient during face-to-face visits – a shift that is sure to affect patient satisfaction levels as well.

According to a Health Affairs study, since the widespread implementation of EHR systems in practices across the country, almost two-thirds of the average doctor's day is taken up by clerical work unrelated to medicine. With scribes, however, that time is given back to the physicians who can then utilize it to administer more accurate and timely care.