Most health care providers agree that electronic medical records (EMRs) have been a mixed blessing. The convenience of documenting, compiling, and sharing information electronically helps improve care. However, the demands of entering information during visits, and setting aside time for administrative work, take valuable time away from patients and family.

Far too many busy practitioners end up working extra hours, struggling to close charts at night, and that leads to burnout. At Albany Area Primary Health Care (AAPHC), a large Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) in Albany, Georgia, we've found a solution. This year, we implemented a program to give high performing providers a remote virtual scribe and the return on investment has been impressive.

AAPHC has more than 90 providers, covering multiple specialties, who log more than 220,000 visits a year. Since we began partnering with a medical scribe company, providers with dedicated virtual scribes are seeing an average of six additional patients a day without charting at night.

With demands for accurate, timely charting on multiple EMR platforms continuing to increase, highly trained remote scribes can take away much of the administrative burden to help increase practice revenue, reduce provider burnout, and optimize patient care quality.

Five ways a virtual scribe can help any practice thrive

  1. Higher quality patient visits: Practitioners can focus on patients instead of inputting data into an EMR, while their remote scribe focuses on thorough documentation, making sure to capture important symptoms and conversation for diagnostic review.
  2. Improved workflow: Simply log into the EMR in the morning and greet your scribe, who has prepped charts for the day and will be available to document patient visits in real time, queue up orders, draft letters, and get charts ready for sign-off.
  3. See more patients/work less hours: Virtual scribe support can improve patient access up to 25%, allowing providers see more patients without adding clinic hours or taking charts home.
  4. Avoid costly mistakes: It’s important to get documentation right the first time. This is not AI, which still requires editing and checking due to language barriers and practice protocols. Professional scribes, trained for each specialty, deliver accurate, thorough charting and coding that elevates provider ratings and captures all reimbursement revenue.
  5. Cover quality measures: In the midst of an exam, it’s easy to forget a thing or two. A scribe, familiar with required quality health measures, can remind their practitioner to record body mass index, do screenings, and complete patient surveys.

Game changer

All of our AAPHC women’s health providers now have scribes. One obstetrician/gynecologist now sees up to 35 patients a day, and leaves on time with all charts closed. Family and internal medicine, pediatrics, podiatry, and dental practices are on board, too. So much so, that we have created a scribe support incentive.

Any provider who commits to increasing patient visits to 22 a day (or more) now qualifies for scribe support, which allows them to see more patients, close charts by the end of the day, and earn more income with a new production-based compensation model.

An FQHC’s mission is to be accessible to underserved communities. Providers are better able to support that mission knowing that extra appointments won’t lead to extra charting, paperwork, and late nights.

Building partnerships

Our providers are enjoying their role as caregivers more because we, along with the medical scribes, are helping them streamline their work within the practices. They are so excited about the developments that they’ve even started a messaging group to share how their scribes are supporting them so they can further optimize their partnerships.

I appreciate virtual scribes because I see the internal improvements within the practices and our financials are also improving. Our ability to make same-day appointments has never been better. But the texts I get from providers may be my favorite bonus. They say, “I saw 25 patients, charts are closed, and I’m going home at 5:30.” I say, “Good. Go home. Be with your family.”

We all have compassion for patients. Providers and staff deserve compassion, too. Addressing provider burnout improves recruitment and retention. We actually prevented a provider from resigning by addressing her pressing needs, which included providing a scribe. These are the things that make me smile at the end of a busy day. I know we’re doing the right things by our providers by implementing these new programs.

Shelley Spires, MSM, is CEO of Albany Area Primary Health Care, southwest Georgia’s largest community health center, which began working with ScribeEMR in 2023. She is a board member of the Association of Clinicians for the Underserved, a national nonprofit focused on the recruitment and retention of clinicians into all types of facilities in underserved communities, and frequently speaks with colleagues and elected officials about best practices.

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Medical Economics | December 22, 2023