Advantages and Disadvantages of Hiring a Medical Scribe

Medical scribes offer a way to transcribe dictations accurately and efficiently. As some healthcare organizations begin leaning towards speech recognition and even ambient technologies, it’s important to lay out the pros and cons of medical scribes and virtual scribes to determine if it’s time to incorporate these technologies in your own work. In this article, we’ll detail the benefits and drawbacks of hiring a medical scribe or virtual scribe – as well as detail the differences between the two.


The Difference Between Medical Scribes and Virtual Scribes

Medical scribes and virtual scribes might both be able to complete the same tasks – but there are key differences between the two. Medical scribes are often certified and trained specifically for medical transcription. The same can be said for some virtual scribes – specifically those hired from a medical scribe agency. Not all virtual scribes focus in medical transcription, which is why it’s important to find the best suited agency or freelance scribes for your needs.

The other key difference between medical scribes and virtual scribes may be a bit obvious: medical scribes work on-premise, while virtual scribes work remotely. Depending on how dictations are transferred, this can have some implications on the return time for transcriptions. One disadvantage of virtual scribes is a lack of direct communication healthcare providers or administrative personnel and the virtual scribes due to the distance between them – this can make repeat errors especially frustrating.

What is a medical scribe?

A medical scribe is a licensed transcriptionist that assists with the transcription of physician charting and documentation. Medical scribes are employed across all medical disciplines, including emergency medicine, pathology, radiology, ambulatory, and more. Considering each specialty uses different terminology and requires specific knowledge of the specialty, scribes are typically trained in general medicine and require further training for individual specialties.

Some medical scribes sit in on a patient encounter. Depending on the practice and specialty, sometimes the role of a medical scribe is taken on by a nurse or assistant. Take for example dentist offices, which often employ dental assistants to take notes in the dental software while the dentist examines the patient.

A scribe might also listen to a recorded dictation by the physician rather than sitting in on the encounter. Although there are communication benefits of the scribe working in-office, this same task can be completed by virtual scribes.

What does a virtual medical scribe do?

A virtual medical scribe performs nearly all the same tasks that a medical scribe does – but remotely. Medical practices might hire a virtual scribe directly or use a transcription outsourcing service. In either case, the virtual scribe is responsible for transcribing physicians’ recorded dictations, which can then be entered in the EHR.

Virtual scribes can work for transcription companies or even freelance. Freelance virtual scribes may be able to work from home, while transcription companies might require the scribes to work in an office environment. In either case, the virtual scribe would not visit the healthcare organization providing dictations for transcription.

How much does it cost to hire a scribe?

So then, how much does a medical scribe cost healthcare provider organizations? On average, medical scribes earn a salary of roughly $34,000 per year.

Some virtual scribe services operate with a pay-per-line pricing model, where payment (usually a few cents) is determined based on a predetermined character-per-line amount. In-person medical scribes, on the other hand, are often paid hourly or receive a salary.

Is there a scribe shortage?

Medical transcription requires a fairly unique skillset and a wide base of medical knowledge. There is also a projected decline in medical transcriptionist employment over the next decade, in part to reduce costs and due to the availability of outsourcing transcription and utilizing speech recognition. With declining employment and a high barrier for entry, we may see a decline in qualified medical transcriptionists, both virtual and in-person, within the decade as well.

Should I hire a scribe or use speech recognition?

There are plenty of applications and benefits to both scribes and speech recognition. In fact, the two can be used in tandem through back-end speech recognition. Speech recognition can be either front-end, where providers dictate directly into speech recognition software for immediate recognition and transcription of their text; or back-end, where providers dictate, the speech is transcribed, then the transcribed text is further reviewed by scribes, transcriptionists, or other staff.

Some healthcare professionals prefer the use of scribes, others prefer speech recognition – and often larger healthcare organizations will use some combination of the two. One benefit of exclusively using speech recognition is allowing for quicker turnaround time on charting and other documentation. The other immediate benefit of speech recognition is a reduction in staffing costs – whether scribes are internal or outsourced.

To learn more about the pros and cons of both speech recognition and transcription, and why you might elect to use one over the other (or some combination of the two), you can read on in our blog Transcription vs. Speech Recognition: A Comparison.

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Posted by Brian Gaysunas

Marketing Manager

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