Study: Scribe May Reduce Burnout, Offset Costs

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Key Insights

  • New research shows that much of the initial cost of employing a medical scribe, which may reduce burnout, is offset in less than one year. 
  • By seeing an average of 1.3 new patients — or up to three returning patients — per day, 90 percent of practices will recoup their investment. 
  • The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently launched an initiative to better understand office-based physicians’ health IT usage. 

Costs of Medical Scribe Offset Within First Year

A recent study from the Annals of Internal Medicine concluded that “for all specialties, modest increases in productivity due to scribes may allow physicians to see more patients and offset scribe costs, making scribe programs revenue-neutral.” Researchers found that 90 percent of practices can offset the initial costs of employing a scribe within one year by seeing an average of 1.3 new patients per day. 

“Scribes can help a practice add up to 20 percent more visits, which increases patient satisfaction,” Neda Laiteerapong, MD, the study’s lead author, said. “That is valuable to patients, who have increased access, and to providers who are able to do what they were trained to do, which is take care of patients, not paperwork.”

Dr. Laiteerapong noted that virtual scribes working remotely can provide the benefits of an in-person scribe while avoiding the potential discomfort of having an additional person in the room. “With modern technology, there can be a device in the room listening to the conversation and transmitting it electronically. So, a scribe working in another space can still have the notes 90 percent done when the physician leaves the room.”

ONC to Explore and Advance Health IT

According to the study’s press release, requirements for electronic health records (EHRs) are “greater now than ever, and that burden is exacerbating the problem of physician burnout.” To better understand “key measures on interoperability and burden” related to EHRs, HHS’ Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) has launched an initiative to gather “national-level data on how office-based physicians use health IT.” 

The initiative has three primary focus areas: 

  • Develop key measures related to health IT use and the interoperability of health information
  • Collect data from a nationally representative sample of office-based physicians to support national-level progress
  • Collaborate with the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) on the analysis and interpretation of the survey results.

As Rebecca Pifer, writing for Healthcare Dive, reported: “Clunky IT systems are a major contributor to physician burnout and cost the healthcare system millions annually.” The initiative seeks to overcome these obstacles by identifying the “disparities or unintended consequences due to the use of health IT and the impacts of federal health IT policies to guide future policy decisions.”

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