Medical scribes in emergency medicine produce financially significant productivity gains for some, but not all emergency physicians

Katherine J Walker, Michael Ben-Meir, David Phillips, Margaret Staples
Emergency Medicine Australasia: EMA 2016, 28 (3): 262-7

OBJECTIVE: The present study aims to determine if a scribe in an Australian ED can assist emergency physicians to work with increased productivity and to investigate when and where to allocate a scribe and to whom.

METHODS: This was a prospective observational single-centre study conducted at a private ED in Melbourne. It evaluated one American scribe and five doctors over 6 months. A scribe is a trained assistant who performs non-clinical tasks usually performed by the doctor. The primary outcomes were patients/hour/doctor and billings/patient. Additional analyses included individual doctor productivity, productivity by ED region, shift time, day of the week and physician learning curves. Door-to-doctor time, time spent on ambulance bypass and door-to-discharge time were examined, also complaints or issues with the scribe.

RESULTS: There was an overall increase in doctor consultations of 0.11 (95%CI 0.07-0.15) primary consultations per hour (13%). There was variation seen between individual doctors (lowest increase 0.06 [6%] to highest increase 0.12 [15%]). Billings per patients, door-to-doctor, door-to-discharge and ambulance bypass times remained the same. There was no advantage to allocating a scribe to a specific time of day, day of week or region of the ED. There was no learning period found.

CONCLUSIONS: In the present study, scribe usage was associated with overall improvements in primary consultations per hour of 13% per scribed hour, and this varied depending on the physician. There is an economic argument for allocating scribes to some emergency physicians on days, evenings and weekends, not to trainees.

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