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Doctors and scribes, part 1: electronic records and patient focus

The role of scribe is an honored one across many cultural traditions.

To be sure, in the New Testament texts Jesus often had harsh words for them. His fear was that they might put the letter of the law before its spirit.

Overall, however, the position of scribe has been highly valued in many different civilizations.

In this two-part post, we will discuss how, in the context of modern medicine, the role has been transformed in a new way that holds the potential to improve the practice of medicine in the digital age.

A scribe is literally one who writes. And historically, scribes have been those who wrote for others, especially in cultures where literacy was far from universal.

Today, a scribe in the medical context is one who shadows a doctor in order to accurately transcribe on an electronic chart what a doctor and a patient have discussed.

Some hospitals around the country are beginning to use such scribes. The goal is not only to prevent doctor errors caused by distractions. It is to improve the level of service doctors and hospitals provide by enabling doctors to focus on interacting with patients.

With a scribe at their side, doctors have no reason to hide behind a computer screen or hastily scribble handwritten notes. Instead, they can engage with patients face-to-face.

The face-to-face dialog should make for better diagnoses – diagnoses that take into account the particular circumstances of the patient, rather than trying to fit the patient into a preconceived template.

In part two of this post, we will discuss what the prospects are for this kind of progress.

Source: The New York Times, "A Busy Doctor's Right Hand, Ever Ready to Type," Katie Hafner, Jan. 12, 2014

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