April 04, 2017
Could Scribes Reduce the Hidden Costs of Your EHR?

EHRs are taking a heavy financial toll on the healthcare industry. You know the upfront costs are significant, and there are also ongoing “hidden” costs that aren’t always obvious. Initial and continuous training, implementing upgrades, hiring additional staff and dealing with periodic outages are all expensive. But those may be just the beginning. There’s little doubt that EHRs are sabotaging the bottom line in a lot of other ways as well.

Productivity is down

A 2016 Deloitte survey found that 70% of physicians felt that EHRs reduced their productivity. Statistics bear them out. Family physicians, general practitioners, and internists have all reported a continuing drop since 2009 in the numbers of patients they see per week, with numbers reaching a new low in 2014. Over that same time period, however, those same physicians reported putting in more and more hours. It’s easy to see why. Another recent study found that physicians spend more than twice as much time on EHRs and desk work as they do on face-to-face interactions with patients, many also giving up precious home and family time to try to catch up on clerical work at night.

Frustration is up

Doctors are frustrated, and so are nurses. A survey in late 2014 found that an overwhelming 92% of some 14,000 registered nurses were dissatisfied with the increased workloads and decreased interactions with patients brought about by the unceasing demands placed on them by EHRs, and presumably, by the extra work asked from them by physicians who need support with using the technology.

Patient satisfaction is threatened

Of course the combination of more work, stress, frustration, and less productivity is a recipe for patient dissatisfaction. In years past, disgruntled patients could be dismissed as unfortunate collateral damage. But now reduced patient satisfaction means reduced compensation. And one sure way to alienate patients is to give them the impression that you’re paying more attention to your computer than you are to them.

Simply put, patients are much happier when you look them in the eye. In fact, the more eye contact, the better, one study found. “Total patient satisfaction and patient satisfaction with patient-centered communication were significantly associated with higher clinician ‘gaze time’ at the patient,” say researchers. That, they went on to say, suggests that “clinicians would be well-served to refine their multitasking skills so that they communicate in a patient-centered manner while performing necessary computer-related tasks.” Good advice, but a lot easier said than done? Another study found that when EHRs were heavily used during patient interactions, only 48% of patients gave high satisfaction marks. But when EHRs were barely touched, high satisfaction rates zoomed up to 81%.

Achieving high-level performance

EHRs aren’t going away, but scribes may be part of the solution. By handling data entry and other tasks for physicians, they can help alleviate those insidious hidden costs. They are the right-hand assistants who allow world-class caregivers to do what they want to do, and what they have been trained to do — in short, to be able to always “think medically instead of clerically.”

We don’t expect world-class musicians and athletes to take tickets, seat customers, sell refreshments, or handle other mundane tasks. We want and expect them to be able to concentrate fully on their crafts so that they can perform at the highest possible levels. Physicians, patients, and the bottom line would all benefit if well-rested, highly motivated medical providers could do the same, while leaving the clerical tasks to those who are specialized to do them.