Over the past few years, we have seen a lot more work-at-home job leads for virtual medical scribes. As could be expected, a lot of people have asked more about this field. What is a virtual medical scribe? How does one become one?
If you have been wondering about this industry, this post is for you.
What is a virtual medical scribe?
A medical scribe is someone who specializes in charting physician-patient interactions as they happen. These encounters might be during medical examinations, and occurring in real-time. A virtual medical scribe is a professional who remotely accompanies a physician during patient visits, taking critical notes and documenting each encounter. The virtual medical scribe handles all electronic medical records and clinical charting off-site, allowing physicians to focus on in-person patient care.
A virtual medical scribe can work in several different capacities, such as in a clinic, ER, ED (emergency department), or just as a general scribe.
There is an important distinction between scribing and transcribing. A transcriber will listen to the physician-patient interaction, or the doctor dictating a note, and type it up exactly as it occurs. On the other hand, a scribe must interpret that conversation and create a document with all the pertinent information, including the necessary coding, which will then be sent off to the coders and billers. A scriber must also create a letter to any referring doctors as well as any other associated tasks.
Overall duties of the virtual medical scribe might include:
- Assisting the doctor in filling out data and charts
- Responding to messages sent to the doctor
- Locating specific information found in notes, reports, and tests
- Researching any additional information requested by the medical provider.
Why would a doctor need a medical scribe?
In today’s day and age, most doctors and hospitals will use an EMR (electronic medical records) that is specialized in their practice. However, no matter how good the EMR, it still takes precious time to enter data into the system.
According to an article in the Harvard Business Review titled “The Strategy That Will Fix Healthcare” a doctor’s cost per minute might be up to $4 a minute, or $240 for a full hour. It does not make economic sense to pay a doctor $240 an hour to fill out data into an EMR.
If the doctor is filling out the EMR, it might be in front of the patient, who might perceive the doctor as not paying attention to them as they are talking to them and describing their symptoms. However, if a doctor waits until after the patient leaves the examination room to type up their notes, it means the next patient has to wait even longer to be seen. This means either fewer patients can be scheduled (meaning less revenue), or to get the same amount of revenue, each patient must be billed more. Either way, patient satisfaction isn’t increased, and doctors are spending too much time entering data.
That is why many places are using virtual medical scribes to utilize the doctor’s time better, allowing them to see more patients with shorter wait times. Because each patient encounter can take 4 minutes to enter into the EMR, with the average charting time taking up to 12 minutes, however, some of the more complex cases can take up to 20 minutes per patient. By outsourcing this work to a virtual scribe, a doctor can easily see one more person an hour, and saves themselves two hours of typing and entering data each day.
The doctor can also use that time to spend on other activities, like publishing, research, management, or they can choose to spend more time with each patient or see more patients. Using a virtual medical scribe gives the doctor many more options and additional revenue. Each new patient means more labs, tests, or even other surgeries. Small clinics and large healthcare systems alike can make a lot more revenue thanks to medical scribes.
Research has also shown that patients feel uncomfortable with a doctor and an in-person medical scribe are both in a small examination room. Patients might be worried about being judged by that additional person, or it makes them feel claustrophobic. However, using a virtual scribe, who is not present in the examination room, can help put the patient more at ease when they are alone with the doctor.
Virtual scribes are a particularly good fit for practices in remote areas that have a difficult time enticing qualified physical scribes to come work at their clinics or hospitals. They can also be advantageous in areas that see an influx of people during certain times of the year, like ski towns or beach towns. That way, these places can use a virtual scribe as needed, without having to find a physical scribe for limited periods of time.
A virtual scribe can also be advantageous to a physician or office that has multiple locations. The scribe can still cover all doctors in the office, regardless of where they see their patients, without any break in service.
How much do virtual medical scribes make?
The popularity of virtual medical scribes is growing, and according to Glassdoor the average salary is $24,857. Virtual medical scribes are less expensive than physical medical scribes because a virtual scribe can be called upon only when needed. They also do not need to listen to the whole patient’s visit, but instead can listen just the necessary parts.
What is interesting to note is that many physicians have to take money from their own paychecks to cover the scribe’s wages. However, the benefits do outweigh this cost, which is why virtual medical scribes have become so invaluable.
How do I become a virtual medical scribe?
Most medical scribes are already in the medical field or are at least training to be. Many companies that hire virtual medical scribes require at least an associates degree in relation to healthcare. Many premed students also spend some time as a medical scribe.
One of the biggest complaints that doctors have about using medical scribes is the amount of time it takes to train them on the EMR and acclimate them into the workflow. Therefore, many choose to hire through an agency to help eliminate any disruptions in work when there is employee turnover, or a scribe is sick or on vacation. An agency will train several scribes to be familiar with the specific workflow and preferences of a doctor.
Likely, you will have to work through an agency that will train you to become a medical scribe. You might be required to complete 40-100 hours of training on medical terminology and documental instruction. If you want to work within a specific specialty, you will have to undertake specific training for that field as well.
Once you have been trained on medical terminologies, such as symptoms, diagnoses, and medications, you will then undergo scenario practice and observe and participate in mock patient encounters.
Some training programs also exist outside of scribing agencies. In 2011, The American Healthcare Documentation Professionals Group, Inc. (AHDPG) created the first online medical scribe training program. This program was designed to help people new to the industry gain more skills and supplement their knowledge in the areas of medical terminology, as well as anatomy and physiology. Some might require you to be certified to work in the hospital or clinic, whereas in most other places, including the major agencies, don’t have this requirement. While it isn’t necessary to attend an outside program, it might help you get your foot in the door.
Who hires virtual medical scribes?
There are a couple of companies that hire experienced virtual medical scribes:
These companies typically require prior medical scribe experience.
Overall, virtual medical scribes have become more and more popular. Whether you are looking to advance to the medical field as a doctor, physician assistant, nurse or nurse practitioner, or want to enjoy the benefits of working from home in the medical field, there are a growing number of positions as virtual medical scribe available.