In the past few years, electronic medical records have created the need for a new type of employee: medical scribes who free up doctors to take on more patients. But while some see great potential in the field’s growth, others question whether it’s holding back better technology.
Write this down: You’re about to read about a small—but booming—aspect of the future of the medical industry.
With electronic filing systems becoming the rule of the day at doctor’s offices and hospitals, the medical scribe field is increasingly becoming an important one for an industry that’s putting handwritten doctor’s notes in the rear-view mirror.
And despite the relatively newness of the trade, there’s already an association encouraging the field’s quick growth. The American College of Medical Scribe Specialists (ACMSS), which launched in 2010, offers training, certification programs, and advocacy for the industry.
The group notes that updated technology has actually complicated transcription instead of making it simpler.
“Many hospitals have already attempted a solution to contemporary difficulties by transitioning to electronic medical record (EMR) systems,” the association explains on its website. “However, EMR systems require markedly increased time for data entry and management. With ever-increasing patient volume, physicians are progressively short of time to manage such clerical tasks.”
Already, the group anticipates that the 20,000 people already working in the field will quintuple by 2020.
“Unless we have some futuristic component where a physician can do live documentation while walking down the hall, there will always be a need for scribes,” said Sarah Lamb, the COO of Scribe America, which offers training and technology services for medical scribes and is a key backer of ACMSS.
But while the industry is growing quickly—because it’s an entry-level medical position and because it helps remove a time-consuming annoyance for doctors—it’s not without controversy.
Last month, a trio of authors wrote a piece in the Journal of the American Medical Association looking at the issue from both sides. While noting the benefits—”scribes reportedly enable physicians to see more patients; generate more revenue; and improve productivity, efficiency, accuracy of clinical documentation and billing, and patient satisfaction”—they questioned whether scribes are a hindrance to improved technology.
In comments to Marketplace, Dr. George Gellert, one of the authors of the Journal article, suggested that use of scribes could limit future innovation by preventing physician feedback that would improve the usability and effectiveness of electronic medical records.
“By creating a new profession we are bypassing the physician, as well as hospitals and clinics across the country [for their] input into this product,” Gellert told the radio program.