Fast-growing medical scribe industry poses risks to patients, and to product design

Fast-growing medical scribe industry poses risks to patients, and to product design

Soon there will be one scribe for every seven doctors. What will that mean for EHRs?

LAS VEGAS – As electronic health records have proliferated in recent years, so has the use of medical scribes. That’s an unwelcome development for two big reasons, said two chief medical information officers at HIMSS16 on Wednesday: patient safety and EHR usability.

Scribes are unlicensed individuals hired and trained to enter clinical information into EHRs at the direction of physician. The scribe industry has grown quickly since HITECH Act spurred massive EHR adoption.

More than 20 companies provide scribe services in 44 states, according to data provided by S. Luke Webster, MD, system CMIO at CHRISTUS Health, and his colleague, George Gellert, MD, associate system CMIO. A tally in 2014 estimated that 10,000 scribes were working in the U.S. That number is doubling annually, with more than 20,000 expected this year.

Within six years, they said, there will be one scribe for every seven physicians in the U.S.

Why the explosive growth in this unregulated industry? “It’s a reaction,” said Webster, “to what most of us as clinicians see as inadequate usability” of EHRs.

From that perspective, he said, he understood the desire of physicians to get help with the voluminous documentation that many say has turned them from “clinicians into clerks.”

“Dissatisfaction with EHRs has been immense,” added Gellert. “Understandably, physicians are looking for release.”

No question, meaningful use has caused docs to have to spend much more time with their EHRs. Those who use scribes to help share the burden of data entry report workflow improvements, productivity gains, increases in patient satisfaction scores and better profit margins.

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