Impact of Medical Scribes in Primary Care on Productivity, Face-to-Face Time, and Patient Comfort

Type: Journal Article
Date: July 2018


Zallman L, Finnegan K, Roll D, Todaro M, Oneiz R, Sayah A. “Impact of Medical Scribes in Primary Care on Productivity, Face-to-Face Time, and Patient Comfort”, J Am Board Fam Med 2018; 31 (4): 612-619. doi:10.3122/jabfm.2018.04.170325


Background: Medical scribes are a clinical innovation increasingly being used in primary care. The impact of scribes in primary care remain unclear. We aimed to examine the impact of medical scribes on productivity, time spent facing the patient during the visit, and patient comfort with scribes in primary care.

Methods: We conducted a prospective observational pre-post study of 5 family and internal medicine-pediatrics physicians and their patients at an urban safety net health clinic. Medical scribes accompanied providers in the examination room and documented the clinical encounter. After an initial phase-in period, we added an additional 20-minute patient slot per 200-minute session. We examined productivity by using electronic medical record data on the number of patients seen and work relative value units (work RVUs) per hour. We directly observed clinical encounters to measure the amount of time providers spent facing patients and other visit components. We queried patient comfort with scribes by using surveys administered after the visit.

Results: Work RVUs per hour increased by 10.5% from 2.59 prescribe to 2.86 post-scribe (P < .001). Patients seen per hour increased by 8.8% from 1.82 to 1.98 (P < .001). Work RVUs per patient did not change. After scribe implementation, time spent facing the patient increased by 57% (P < .001) and time spent facing the computer decreased by 27% (P = .003). The proportion of the visit time that was spent face-to-face increased by 39% (P < .001). Most (69%) patients reported feeling very comfortable with the scribe in the room, while the proportion feeling very comfortable with the number of people in the room decreased from 93% to 66% (P < .001).

Conclusions: Although the full implications of medical scribe implementation remain to be seen, this initial study highlights the promising opportunity of medical scribe implementation in primary care.

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