• Alexis E

Virtual Medical Scribes The Advantages and Disadvantages


Working Remotely for Employers

The arrival of Electronic Health Records and their management demands on doctors and staff has caused a flourishing medical scribe industry. Right now, medical scribes are the fastest-growing job segment in healthcare, with one out of every nine doctors utilizing a scribe in the US alone. Yet, scribes are expensive, costing as much as $50,000 per year per scribe. They are hard to scale across more expansive healthcare companies, as each doctor requires a scribe.


Virtual scribes are steadily growing in demand as an alternative to your standard medical writers. Instead of joining the doctor in the office, virtual scribes will participate via a phone call or video chat from an offsite location. This has several advantages over traditional medical scribes, including a smaller price tag, a greater sense of privacy, and increased service flexibility.


However, virtual scribes are not without shortcomings. Below we dish it all - The advantages and disadvantages of virtual medical scribes.

The Advantages

Increased feeling of privacy

Since virtual scribes will be at an offsite location listening in, allowing the doctor and patient to be alone in the exam room. This will give the patient a greater sense of privacy, which is especially beneficial for those that feel uncomfortable with the third pair of eyes and ears in the room.


Patients who are more at ease tend to be more honest and open to discussing their health concerns. This improves the accuracy of diagnosis and will lead to a better patient experience.


Reduced Functional Creep

Functional creep refers to the (often accidental) process of increasing an employee’s responsibilities beyond the original scope of their job. It is one of the more serious concerns regarding onsite medical scribes. Scribes who have proven reliable and self-sufficient may be asked to complete increasingly complex Electronic Health Records tasks. At the same time, the doctor or staff can focus on client/patient healthcare. If a doctor isn’t cautious, functional creep could put them in danger of malpractice.


Luckily, the degree of separation between virtual scribe and doctor dramatically reduces the risk of functional creep. Some virtual scribing agencies proactively limit their employee’s access to only information necessary for medical documentation, removing the chance of available creep.



Less Training and Expedited Onboarding

Many medical practitioners have admitted that the burden of training and onboarding new scribes is significant in their hesitancy to offload their note-taking and clerical work. One of the considerable elements of virtual scribes is that they are often employees of larger organizations and scribe networks. Meaning they have an excellent foundation they can build.


While each doctor may need to familiarize virtual scribes with their tendencies and style of care, most of the complicated setup is already taken care of. Virtual scribes can take clinical notes, learn how to work with physicians, and are comfortable using EHRs and their accompanying workflows.



Flexibility of Service

Virtual scribes work from any remote location. They are an excellent option for medical practices, especially in secluded or rural areas where access to onsite scribes is limited.


Furthermore, many virtual scribing agencies provide on-demand services. To cover a position due to illness or vacation – mitigating the scheduling nightmares of hiring in-office medical scribes.


The Disadvantages

Cost

While a virtual scribe costs significantly lower than an onsite scribe, they will still run you about $1200/month per doctor.


And it doesn’t stop there. Both onsite and virtual scribe positions are popular for medical school students to get in-field experience before they study. The scribing industry is troubled by high rates of turnover. As a result, they are forcing clinics to take on extra costs to hire and onboard a substitution.


The result of turnover may not be as prominent when working with a scribe staffing agency. They can quickly fill the position after an employee takes up a new role, goes on a leave of absence, or it’s the end of their employment. Introducing a new scribe might interrupt the workflow as it takes time to adjust to the doctors working style.




Lack of Systemized Training

While the scribing industry is flourishing, systemized training is falling slightly behind. Some minor-party staffing companies have established internal training programs that their onsite and virtual scribes must complete. Still, these programs get little to no guidelines from federal organizations.


There is also a differentiation in experience across scribes. One recent study found that 44% of scribes have no experience, while only 22% have received some certification. As a result, the study revealed a significant inter-scribe discrepancy in notes taken for identical patient encounters.


Security Risks

The most significant downfall of virtual medical scribes is the risk of offshore data transmission. It’s common for virtual scribing companies to hire the majority of their writers offshore, increasing the breach susceptibility of sensitive patient health information.


You must partner with a virtual scribe company with proven and established security standards or find and employ an onshore virtual scribe by yourself.



Telemedicine Trends and a climb in Threats

The data trends over the past few years show the climb (and impending) adoption of cloud-based, computer-driven resolves in patient care and healthcare. But since COVID-19, these trends were immediately thrust into the forefront of the industry.


Most healthcare consultations and regular visits over the past year were conducted through telehealth software for provider and patient health safety. But with all the new methods of providing care come increased cyber threats.


In 2020, reported security incidents rose by 42% and affected 31 million patients. While we may expect a slight decline as the pandemic eases across the country, most experts believe telehealth practices will continue to be in use. This rapid rise in patient information, without a doubt, means that telehealth systems have a big target on their back. Knowing these trends and the risks of protecting our client’s information might discourage practitioners from hiring offsite medical scribes.



In Conclusion

There can be a lot of advantages and disadvantages to weigh when considering a virtual offsite scribe. For many practices, the overall cost, flexibility of service, and patient-centered encounters make virtual scribes a more suitable alternative to traditional medical writers.


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