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Medical Scribes Take Notes So Physician Doesn't Have To

Medical scribes can save thousands of man-hours in record keeping, leading to better physician service.

| BY Kent McDill

The time a patient gets to spend with his or her doctor is precious, and the patient wants to have the doctor’s undivided attention during visits.

But patients also want doctors to keep precise records of medical treatments and diagnoses. As a result, much of the time during a doctor’s appointment is spent watching the doctor write down notes for future use. Then the patient gets to watch again as the doctor refocuses on the conversation, before he bends down again to write down what just happened.

Because doctors are now required to file their notes into an electronic medical records system, they are spending hours doing clerical work.

A solution to the time management problem now exists. Known as Medical Scribes, people are now being hired to shadow physicians, take notes for them as they conduct examinations, present the notes to the physician for approval, then enter those notes, as well as prescriptions and diagnoses, into the computer system for use at a later date.

The design is to free the doctor from the distraction of taking notes while attempting to conduct a thorough examination and medical session with a patient who often has significant questions and concerns.

Dr. Deyesh Ramnath, an orthopedic surgeon in Dallas, recently hired a medical scribe to handle the important but distracting note-taking and computer input portion of the day.

“I was really focused on just trying to get the information in, and not really focusing on the patient anymore,’’ said Ramnath in an explanation to National Public Radio about why he hired a scribe.

Doctors today are required to keep electronic medical records because Medicare will require it by 2015 or physicians will face penalties. The time doctors were spending typing can now be put to more constructive use.

The purpose is also to cut cost while spending a little extra. Teaching physicians to enter data into the new electronic medical systems was costly. Maine Medical Center in Portland, Maine, estimated a loss of $13.4 million over a six-month period due to the time spent by physicians entering records rather than seeing patients (and getting paid to do so).

“Scribes have made the transition practically seamless,’’ said Dr. Chris Johnson of the Community Memorial Hospital in Ventura, Calif. In an interview with “The scribe program has helped us increase our patients per hour over the past two years by about 12.5 percent. Our changes per hour have gone up about 15 to 20 percent, and we have not had to increase physician hours.”

Medical scribes are usually pre-med school students making about $20 per hour to gain experience before applying to medical school.

The first medical scribe company is named PhysAssist, which is based in Fort Worth, Texas and now has a second office in Chicago. The company has grown from 35 scribes in 2008 to 1,400 in 2014. Two other firms, Medical Scribe Systems and Scribe America, each have thousands of scribes available for hire.

At PhysAssist, the scribes are trained in mock emergency rooms, where they learn how to fill out the very complicated medical records forms. They also have to learn to multitask effectively.

“You are listening to the physician, you are listening to the nurse, you are listening to the patient, and you are gathering all that information and presenting to back to the physician,’’ said PhysAssist trainer Brandon Torres to NPR.

About the Author

Kent McDill

Kent McDill is a staff writer for Millionaire Corner. McDill spent 30 years as a sports writer, working for United Press International and the Daily Herald of Arlington Heights, Ill. From 1988-1999, he covered the Chicago Bulls for the Daily Herald, traveling with them every day through the nine-month season. He also covered the Bulls for UPI from 1985-88, and currently covers the team for He has written two books on the Bulls, including the new title “100 Things Bulls Fans Should Know And Do Before They Die’, published by Triumph Books. In August 2013, his new book “100 Things Bears Fans Should Know And Do Before They Die” gets published.

In 2008, he resigned from the Herald and became a freelance writer. The Herald hired him to write business features and speeches for the Daily Herald Business Conferences and Awards presentations.

McDill also writes a monthly parenting column for the Herald’s Suburban Parent magazine.

McDill is the father of four children, and an active fan of soccer, Jimmy  Buffett and all things Disney.