Medical scribes boost physician productivity, speed patient visits, study shows

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Using medical scribes in emergency departments can help increase the number of patients physicians see and reduce the time patients spend in the ED, according to a study cited by U.S. News & World Report.

Medical scribes complete administrative tasks, including documenting visits while a physician evaluates the patient, printing out paperwork and arranging tests and appointments.

Although most physicians say scribes are helpful, little research has been done to explore the benefits of using them in EDs, and there's been no evaluation of how their use might affect patient safety.

The researchers analyzed the productivity of physicians working with and without scribes in five Australian EDs. The scribes were medical or pre-med students trained before the study and randomly assigned to the physicians' shifts.

The study found scribes increased the number of patients per hour for each physician by 15.9 percent. They also found patients spent 19 minutes less in the ED when a scribe was present.

The study found the effect was greatest when medical scribes were paired with senior physicians during triage, or when patients are assessed and prioritized.

The study did not find any significant patient safety issues when the scribes were used. Only one in 300 scribed consultations involved a patient safety incident. Most involved incorrect patient identification and test ordering. In half those incidents, the scribe helped prevent a medical error.

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