Medical Paperwork Wastes Resources and Burns Out Physicians

(p. A23) Consider the use of medical scribes, who complete doctors’ electronic paperwork in real time during patient visits. The American College of Medical Scribe Specialists reported that 20,000 scribes were working in 2014, and expects that number to climb to 100,000 in 2020.

I have heard doctors say they need a scribe to keep up with electronic medical records, the mounting demand of which is driving a burnout epidemic among physicians. Scribes allow doctors to talk with and examine patients without having a computer come between them, but at base they are a workaround for the well-known design flaws of electronic medical records.

As a nurse, when I first learned about scribes, I was outraged. On the job, nurses hear repeatedly how health care companies can’t afford to have more nurses or aides to work with patients on hospital floors — and yet, money is available to pay people to manage medical records. Doctors who use scribes tend to see their productivity and work satisfaction increase, but the trade-off is still there: Scribes demonstrate the extent to which paperwork has become more important than patients in American health care.

For the full commentary, see:

Theresa Brown. “Our Jury-Rigged Health Care.” The New York Times (Friday, September 6, 2019): A23.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date September 5, 2019, and has the title “The American Medical System Is One Giant Workaround.”)

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