Virtual Scribes Enhanced Relationships Between Patients and Physicians
By Alisa Pierce

At a time when physicians face burnout often due to administrative stress, two new studies from Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital found virtual scribes cut physician burden by 16% and enhanced relationships between patients and 60% of physicians. 

The American Medical Association’s Practice Transformation EHR (Electronic Health Record) Use Research Grant program supported the studies, which examined the experience of physicians who used virtual scribes for note composition, documentation, and paperwork within their electronic health records. Those who used a scribe saw significant changes in note-taking time per appointment and the amount of time they had to dedicate to work after hours. 

In total, virtual scribes saved about five-and-a-half minutes in EHR time for appointments, cutting that time from 35.1 minutes to 29.5 minutes. Additionally,  

  • Almost 40% of physicians said that they were very satisfied or satisfied with the scribe service they had used;  
  • 65% felt that a scribe service had enhanced their well-being; and  
  • 24%percent said that scribes improved their note quality. 

Austin pediatrician Kelly Jolet, MD, says using a scribe has been the “most impactful” strategy her practice has implemented against burnout. 

“EHR burden is so severe that the decision to use a virtual scribe came almost out of necessity,” she said. “My patients’ care and their charts always come first. But then all my free time is consumed with administrative tasks. Having a scribe on hand helps me navigate that enormous workload.” 

Dr. Jolet says her scribe, a registered nurse, virtually attends appointments to document care notes, patient history, and to communicate prescription information with medical assistants. 

Although Dr. Jolet still prefers to manually read each of her inbox messages, after she reviews the content, she allows her scribe to answer patient questions, send visit reminders, and conduct refill requests. 

Overall, Dr. Jolet says the extra help gave her practice “room to breathe.” 

“This really helps to reduce the amount of work I’m doing at home,” Dr. Jolet said. “Virtual scribes can’t do everything – you still need a physician to be in the driver’s seat to ensure documentation properly backs up patient care. But, at the very least, scribes ensure we don’t have to take the longest route home.” 

In addition to replacing an in-office scribe with a virtual one, there is an emerging trend with the use of ambient scribes, says Shannon Vogel, associate vice president of health information technology. 

An ambient scribe is an application that uses artificial intelligence to listen to the patient-physician encounter and appropriately document the visit. As with virtual scribes, the physician is responsible for reviewing and approving the content before closing the note. 

HIPAA requires practices to have a business associate agreement in place with any virtual scribe that has access to electronic health information. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) requires the agreement to: 

  • Contain description of the allowed and required uses of electronic health information; 
  • Provide that the business associate will not use or further disclose the information other than as permitted or required by the contract or as required by law; and 
  • Document that the business associate used appropriate safeguards to prevent unauthorized use or disclosure of the information, including implementing requirements of the HIPAA Security Rule with regard to electronic protected health information. 

For more information about office technologies, visit TMA’s Health Information Technology webpage

Last Updated On

February 13, 2024

Originally Published On

February 13, 2024

Alisa Pierce

Reporter, Division of Communications and Marketing

(512) 370-1469
Alisa Pierce

Alisa Pierce is a reporter for Texas Medicine. After graduating from Texas State University, she worked in local news, covering state politics, public health, and education. Alongside her news writing, Alisa covered up-and-coming artists in Central Texas and abroad as a music journalist. As a Texas native, she enjoys capturing the landscape on her film camera while hiking her way across the Lonestar State.

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