Scribes reduce burnout from EHR use, increase satisfaction in physicians

Medical scribes in charge of electronic health record (EHR) documentation could reduce physician burnout and restore joy to practicing, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine.

EHRs have left many physicians feeling burned out by the additional clerical burden. Scribes have become an avenue to alleviate this, but findings on the  effect on a physician’s work, attitude, behaviors and relationships with patients are lacking.

“A major contributor to burnout among physicians is growing workload outside of the examination room. For every hour physicians spent in direct contact with patients, 2 more hours are spent on electronic health record (EHR) and desk work,” wrote first author Amelia Sattler, MD and colleagues. “Many physicians document only brief notes during a clinic visit, leaving most of the charting to the end of the day and spending oen to two hours each night working on the EHR.”

In this study, researchers collected data from four physicians working with two scribes over the course of a year. Physician experience was evaluated through written reflections completed after each four-hour clinic session. A codebook was developed to compare results with a grounded theory approach.

Overall, 361 physician reflections were collected, providing 150 different experiences assigned to 289 comparative codes. Researchers noted 11 common themes which were condensed into four; patient experience, quality of care, clinic operations and joy of practice. Clinic operations accounted for 51.6 percent of the codes, followed by joy of practice (22.1 percent), quality of care (16.3 percent) and patient experience (10 percent).

“Providers reported rediscovering a joy in practice as a result of working with scribes. They frequently had a healthier perspective going into work and a more relaxed attitude after clinic hours were over because they were less mentally burdened by the thought of charting,” concluded Sattler and colleagues. "This emerging triad partnership—physician, scribe, medical assistant—has the potential to improve physician wellness; studies have shown similar interventions that improve workflow, increase time for staff to complete tasks, and enhance teamwork can decrease physician burnout.”