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Saving the Doctor

Saving the Doctor
Scribes are trained individuals that go through rigorous training to transcribe for physicians, inform them of when labs are in, and assist in any clerk related tasks.Photo: Rocketclips, Inc. Shutterstock

There is one common issue that we all hear about in our healthcare system: wait times. Whether it be ER times, waiting to get imaging done, or even seeing your family doctor, we have all been impacted by the delays within our healthcare system. Part of the reason why there are such long wait times to see a physician, such as a family doctor, is because of the amount of paperwork involved. Recently, to tackle this issue of wait times and to reduce the amount of paperwork, medical scribes were introduced.

What is a medical scribe?

Scribes are trained individuals that go through rigorous training to transcribe for physicians, inform them of when labs are in, and assist in any clerk related tasks. Their biggest impact is evident when a physician sees a patient and the scribe can document the visit. This allows the physician to fully focus on the patient while the scribe is able to record everything in the format that the doctor prefers. Scribes are also able to transcribe physical exam findings.

How does it work?

As the patient describes their symptoms, the scribe takes down notes and formats everything to the physician’s liking. The latter also verbalizes the physical exam findings to be transcribed. The doctor then signs off on the note after verifying it. Often physicians will provide a custom outline of how they would like their notes done, allowing the scribe to fill it out during the clinical visit.

Where did this start?

Scribes were first introduced in the United States in the emergency department to help alleviate some of the paperwork stress and allow physicians to focus on the patient. This concept was brought to Montreal roughly 4 years ago in the emergency department of the Jewish Hospital and is now used at the Royal Victoria Hospital to help combat the high waiting times in the emergency rooms.

Who uses scribes?

Originally when brought to Montreal, scribes were used in the ER setting. It was found that many of the family doctors with extra training in emergency medicine were using scribes as it made seeing patients more efficient and it allowed them to give better healthcare. Scribes can now be found in a variety of clinical settings that range from family medicine to specific specialties.

How have scribes impacted the medical setting?

Based on interviews, many physicians, including family doctors, believe that scribes allow them to focus more on the patient as they are not constantly worrying about notes. Many of the family doctors in the ER setting who are utilizing scribes find that their stress levels are reduced. This is because they are not worrying about the paperwork they’ll have to fill after their shift, as most notes are signed off instantly after the patient is seen. Scribes also can keep track of patients and alert physicians when labs, imaging and other results are available. This not only makes healthcare more patient centered, but it allows for a faster disposition plan.

Overall, scribes are here to help physicians. Family medicine requires you to be attentive to your patient’s needs and to make sure that all of their concerns are noted down. They also improve physician well-being as the amount of paperwork is reduced. Although scribes currently need to be paid personally by the physician, ongoing studies are demonstrating the impacts on patient satisfaction and will hopefully allow for scribes to be available throughout hospitals and public clinics in the future.

Victor Kang
McGill Family Medicine Interest Group President

Scribe Canada – Healthcare
Medical Scribes of Canada
Scribe America


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