This article contains resources on the use of virtual scribes in physician practices.
While most people are familiar with a physical medical scribe, the virtual scribe is less understood and underutilized. A virtual scribe listens in real-time to the patient visit, or a portion of the visit, and enters information into the EMR as directed by the physician. The scribe is in a remote location using Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) compliant screensharing technology in order to navigate the EMR, enter orders, locate labs or studies, order prescriptions and add coding and billing information. The physician uses a desktop or portable device (mobile phone or tablet) to communicate with the scribe as documentation is entered into the native EMR.
Essentially, the virtual scribe can document anything that the physician or physical scribe can but with several advantages:
- Cost – Depending on the area of the country and the scribe’s qualifications, a physical scribe can earn between $26,000 and $46,000 per year, costing the employer between $31,000 and $55,000 per year. A virtual scribe costs about $1200/month or $14,400/year.
- Training – The biggest complaint from physicians that use physical medical scribes is the amount of time it takes to incorporate them into the workflow and train them on the EMR. [Virtual scribes are familiar with the practice’s EMR and can input in it without additional training.]
In addition to addressing some of the concerns associated with physical scribes, virtual scribes also can provide additional benefits:
- EMR specialists – Many virtual scribes are familiar and comfortable with using multiple EMRs. This allows the scribe to make suggestions to providers about navigating the EMR and providing help with templates. In addition, new employees may benefit from using a scribe that is already familiar with the workings of the practice’s EMR. In this way, the scribe can assist the transition of the new physician.
- Flexible availability – Virtual scribes have the ability to be available when needed and can help other physicians when not needed. Also, most virtual scribe services offer an asynchronous dictation (not live) that physicians can access 24 hours a day in order to complete backlogged charts or add updates to any charts when data is received after hours.
The use of medical scribes is becoming more and more prevalent. While most physicians still use physical scribes, virtual scribes are an excellent alternative. Virtual scribes offer the benefits of reduced cost, increased flexibility, and the ability to reduce training time. A virtual scribe program can offer the physician the ability to increase revenue, improve work-life balance and decrease physician burnout. In a time when many physicians are overwhelmed by the clinical documentation tsunami, virtual scribes can be a valuable tool that frees providers from their clerical burdens and empowers them to experience the joy of practicing medicine again.