The pros and cons of using medical scribes

By Aine Cryts

Medical scribes are growing in popularity. In fact, by 2020, the number of medical scribes in the United States--currently at 15,000--are projected to soar to 100,000.

A new Kaiser Health News report examines the potential benefits--and pitfalls--of having third parties record details about office visits in patients' EHRs.

Physician practices that employ medical scribes report the following benefits: 

  • Positive impact on revenue. Because scribes help to make physicians more efficient, physicians can see five to eight more patients a day. That can mean as much as $105,000 in revenue each year, ScribeAmerica, which employs 10,000 scribes working in 1,200 locations, told KHN. 
  • More face time with patients. Spending too much time at a computer can prevent the physician from really connecting with patients, FiercePracticeManagement reported previously, just one reason proponents say that working with a scribe can be helpful. Scribes can enter family history, symptoms and a tentative diagnosis from a doctor, according to Joint Commission guidelines.
  • Increased physician satisfaction. "They're capturing the story of a patient's encounter--and afterward, doctors make sure everything is accurate," Angela Rose, a director at the American Health Information Management Association, a professional group that has established best practices for working with medical scribes, told KHN. Furthermore, physicians working with scribes report that they finish work earlier, are more satisfied with their career choice and are no longer "enslaved to the computer," FierceEMR reported previously.

Despite these advantages, practices should consider the following potential drawbacks of working with scribes:

  • Very little training, regulation or oversight. Scribes aren't licensed--and only a third are certified, which is a voluntary qualification, according to KHN. While some scribes are pre-med students, the minimum education requirement for most scribes is a high school diploma. The training to become a scribes ranges from 72 hours at PhysAssist and two weeks with ScribeAmerica, according to the KHN article.
  • Scribes can't do everything. While working with a scribe can make a physician more efficient, there are tasks a scribe can't perform, such as entering orders for prescriptions, X-rays and tests, according to the Joint Commission.
  • Possibility of stifling EHR advances. While helpful to physicians and hospitals in the short term, working with scribes could have the impact of stifling technological improvements to EHRs and even put patients at risk.

To learn more:
- read the Joint Commission guidelines
- read the KHN article
- here's the statistics from