CUMBERLAND, Md. — With up to four doctors seeing an average of 170 patients each day in Western Maryland Regional Medical Center's emergency department, it is nice to have a helping hand, especially one with good penmanship.
Enter the medical scribe.
"Scribes increase efficiency," said Dr. Robert Flint, chairman of emergency medicine. "Without a scribe, a doctor sees two patients per hour. With a scribe that goes up to 2.5 patients per hour."
In essence, scribes write down everything a patient tells the doctor during the initial examination in the ED.
Chelsea Davis is one of 14 medical scribes at the hospital.
"I take notes about the complaint, the symptoms, medical history, social history (including use of alcohol and tobacco) and medicines the patient takes," Davis said.
Notes are taken on a hospital form and transcribed via a sophisticated pen inside of which is a tiny camera. The pen is inserted into an electronic reader and, voila, the completed form pops up on screen.
"We can type the patient's name onto the form and will immediately see data from every visit the person has made to the hospital," Flint said.
Medical scribes are being used at more and more hospitals, according to Flint, who along with other doctors working for MEP (Medical Emergency Professionals; see emergencydocs.com) are contracted by the Western Maryland Health System to deal with broken bones, vehicle accident trauma, shortness of breath and various other ailments that bring people to Willowbrook Road.
"We were using scribes at seven other hospitals and they were working well," Flint said. MEP's doctors often acquire scribes from ScribeAmerica 100. Medical scribes have been employed at the Cumberland hospital for a little more than one year.
Many medical scribes are students or recent students who have already expressed interest in a health care career and have taken undergraduate college courses geared in that direction, but not always.
"I had gone to acting school," Davis said, though she was certainly no stranger to the medical industry, her father, Jeff Davis, being an emergency physician. She was trained at the local hospital and shadowed a working scribe for five shifts before being assigned to accompany a doctor and work on her own.
"I love it," Davis said of her work that includes shifts of up to 12 hours.
A scribe basically sees and hears what the physician sees and hears, though the scribe is immediately jotting down what the doctor would have to remember.
"The scribe is exposed to everything that comes through the door," Flint said.
"I have been a scribe on a variety of complaints," Davis said. "A chainsaw kickback to the face, abdominal pain, mental status, strokes, chest pain, GYN complaints."
Flint said the doctor and scribe may be working 10 active patients at one time who are in various stages of the examination and treatment process. Between taking notes on Patient No. 5, the scribe will have to check back to see if the X-rays for Patient No. 2 are ready.
Flint said working as a scribe is a great way for a person to find out if he really is cut out for work in a medical career and wants to move forward to become a nurse or physician.
Flint said it is important for scribes to have good handwriting, better than most doctors.
"But that wouldn't take much," he said.
Information from: Cumberland (Md.) Times-News, http://www.times-news.com/timesnew.html