How To Discourage a Doctor | The Health Care Blog

A modern parable.

RICHARD GUNDERMAN, MD

Not accustomed to visiting hospital executive suites, I took my seat in the waiting room somewhat warily.

Seated across from me was a handsome man in a well-tailored three-piece suit, whose thoroughly professional appearance made me – in my rumpled white coat, sheaves of dog-eared paper bulging from both pockets – feel out of place.

Within a minute, an administrative secretary came out and escorted him into one of the offices. Exhausted from a long call shift and lulled by the quiet, I started to doze off. Soon roused by the sound of my own snoring, I started and looked about.

That was when I spotted the document on an adjacent chair. Its title immediately caught my eye: “How to Discourage a Doctor.”

via How To Discourage a Doctor | The Health Care Blog.

Scribes in 2014

I’ve written about scribes in the ED before (here’s one from 2007) and continue to utilize their services. Did I say utilize? Wrong thought: enjoy and marvel in their help is more my experience. I’m spurred to extoll their virtues and my experience after reading “Attack of the Scribes” by the great twitterer @SkepticScalpel  (he also blogs at SkepticalScalpel.blogspot.com ).

Read the article, it’s well written though more than a touch odd; why’s a doc who’s never worked with scribes editorializing on their pluses and minuses? The literature review is fair, and there probably isn’t enough scholarship on the issue of whether scribes can have a measurable impact on physician productivity. I think we’ve only scratched the surface with scribing in the hospital, as I think every nurse should have a scribe. Imagine, nurses nursing rather than staring at screens, checking boxes! It would be hugely liberating for them.

I’m going to insert some quotes from the article then answer them:

“The emergence of the electronic medical record (EMR) has spawned a new occupation—the scribe.”

No, scribes have been around since ink and paper, and maybe before. I would accept that the EMR has spawned a new medical occupation, though we used scribes in the paper chart world before the EMR. It is certainly true the EMR has facilitated the explosion of scribe utilization (and companies to fill that need).

“I have no personal experience with scribes, but I suspect their notes would tend to be too long rather than too short. Do we really need longer notes in charts? No. Residents need to learn how to write concise progress notes that do not duplicate what is already in the chart. This would require a culture shift by faculty and senior residents who tend to expect voluminous notes.”

Scribes document something like doctors without scribes: all over the map for volume. Some distill the history in a few sentences, some type verbatim, and there’s a mixture between. In the ED, as the note is pretty heavily templated, and so much fluff and junk are automatically stuck in there, an extra sentence or three isn’t contributing to note bloat. I would never scribe any other than a Senior resident, as learning what and how to document is part of the education.

Additionally, docs 40 and above didn’t grow up with keyboards like our scribes did; that means less information added by poor typists, which isn’t good for the patient or the documentation.

The presence of a third party during the doctor-patient interaction has not been an issue so far, but it is conceivable that some patients might feel uncomfortable.”

I’ve had one patient ask the scribe to leave the room. I introduce myself, introduce the scribe as ‘my assistant’, and it’s not an issue otherwise. (We do excuse them for the more intimate exams).

“When a scribe enters a note in an EMR, it must be cosigned by the physician. Experience with dictated H&Ps, notes, and operative reports shows that most of these entries are not carefully proofread before they are signed. Using scribes opens up new vistas for plaintiffs’ attorneys if patients experience bad outcomes.”

I disagree; the issue is the quality of the documentation, and it’s irrelevant who pushes the keys. The name at the bottom of the chart is responsible for the content. Before Texas’ Prop 12 several of us were sued, and the use of scribes never came up as a problem in depositions or trials.

True story. I know someone who had pain in her arms. The scribe documented the doctor as saying “consider a mass” instead of what he actually said, “consider MS.””

Professional transcriptionists get words wrong frequently, and the speech-to-text used by our radiologists is often inadvertently hysterical (‘Sono: Renal and Nasal’ was a recent report header), so communication errors happen. That’s why we read and edit charts.

 

I don’t need a study to tell me scribes make me more efficient, but we did one anyway. We were very efficient on paper charts, with scribes, and the EMR showed up. We went through the training, and had people time scribe-on-paper vs the EMR for time; the EMR was tremendously slower (40% more time required), which was a big hit in an efficient system. We’ve gotten better, but several of our docs use two scribes to get their speed back (and more; I now see more per hour than I did on paper). We didn’t publish our data. Maybe we should have.

Our scribe company* has gotten a whole lot bigger, and a lot more corporate for better and worse. They turn out trained and enthusiastic scribes, and they’re still wonderful to work with. I showed up very early for work the other day and decided to start early, which reinforced that I can manage the EMR and do my own documentation, and I’m terrifically glad I don’t have to.

Here’s Greg Henry (ACEP past President and EM lecturing fixture) being interviewed about scribes by Nick Genes (genius and blogger/twitterer):


ACEP 2012: Greg Henry v. Nick Genes Part 3 – Scribes from Logan Plaster on Vimeo.

Dr. Henry has  also been quoted (though I cannot find it) as saying ‘the ER doctor should be a free floating brain’, meaning let the doctor do the thinking they’re trained to do and let anything that not that be done by someone else. It makes zero sense for the highest compensated in the department to be the typist (not a slam on typists, it’s about the best use of time and talents).

Scribes. If you use an EMR, or don’t, get them. They’ll make you money, and they’ll make your day way, way better.

*Full disclosure: I independently contract with a CMG that supported and then spun off our scribe company. I’m also friends with the scribe company senior management, and they’re good folks. I’d say nice things about our scribes if none of that were true, but don’t want my relationship to be an issue.

 

Comment on Twitter!

There’s always another surprise

We remodeled our kitchen 16 months ago.

Today, my wife decided to pull out the broiler pan.

surprise!

 

We don’t use the broiler, obviously.

It did answer the question ?Why didn’t it come with a temperature probe?! The red is plastic that was holding some nice black trim screws.

So, we now have a temp probe and I have some plastic-coated screws.

 

I kinda like surprises. Sometimes.

ACEP Now still silent on EM President interviews.

Which is terrible, yet predictable.
ACEP Now | The Official Voice of Emergency Medicine.

Yeah, it’s completely devoid of interviews or conversations with the purported future leaders of Emergency Medicine.

What a surprise.

Again, if you’re running for President of ACEP but abide by the Gag Order, you aren’t worthy, and we (as a specialty) shouldn’t support them.