Hospitals hire scribes to help docs adapt to changing technology

By Carrie Johnson Weimar • Published: December 15th, 2010
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Some physicians describe it as a disaster waiting to happen. Health care reform is forcing hospitals to adopt new technology, which is time-consuming for doctors to learn and slows them down while making rounds. At the same time, a record number of new patients are gaining access to health insurance for the first time. The result… the potential for an unprecedected bottleneck of patients.

Enter the scribes.

As more and more hospitals make the transition from paper records to computerized electronic medical records, they are also hiring college students to follow doctors and enter patient data into a laptop.

The health care reform legislation passed last year set aside nearly thirty billion dollars over ten years to encourage hospitals to ditch paper charts and use electronic medical records. Those who fail to make the switch will get their reimbursements from Medicare and Medicaid slashed by as much as ten percent.

But docs say their productivity plummets while they struggle to learn the complex new computerized system. To work around this, some hospitals have begun hiring pre-med students to enter patient data, treatment recommendations and prescriptions into a computer.

Physicians love the scribes and estimate they can see up to eight more patients a day under the new system. They say it’s a wise use of resources. But not everyone is sold. Critics wonder why a system designed to reduce waste requires the addition of additional personnel. Others fear the scribes may not understand what they’re typing and could make mistakes.

One way or another, the scribes are here for at least the foreseeable future. They are already being used in more than two-hundred emergency departments throughout the country, with more are being added every day.