What is an Emergency Department Scribe?

Emergency rooms are a chaotic atmosphere – patients rushing in, doctors running every which way. 

When it’s time to take down comprehensive notes that cover every nuance of a patient’s condition, getting them right can mean the difference between life and death. 

And who is there to help out? That’s right, the emergency department scribe. 

Today, we’ll go over all there is to know about this all-important role, and how technology is reshaping, expanding, and altering the emergency department scribe profession. 

In this article, we'll cover:

Now, it's time to get started! 

What is an emergency department scribe?

An emergency department scribe, or ED scribe, is a trained healthcare professional who works with emergency room physicians and staff to document patient encounters in real time

ED scribes basically shadow physicians as they treat patients and enter information into the electronic health record (EHR) on their behalf.

Now, of course, the role of an ED scribe extends beyond mere data entry. They serve as a bridge between the direct care provided by physicians and the administrative record-keeping required to support patient care. 

By attending to the detailed documentation required for each patient, ED scribes allow physicians to dedicate more time and attention to clinical duties – keeping their eye on the ball, so to speak.

The result? A better quality of care. 

This also means that physicians can see more patients in less time, without compromising the thoroughness of medical records.

And it’s not like emergency department scribes are just taking down notes. They typically have a 2-year degree and complete an internal training program, so they help reduce the likelihood of mistakes in notes. 

Why do hospitals use emergency department scribes in their practice?

Hospitals and emergency departments are always looking for ways to improve efficiency and slash costs. As emergency scribes generally help them achieve both things, using them seems like a given. 

But why? 

Because emergency physicians spend a huge chunk of their time documenting patient encounters, often staying hours after their shift to finish notes. 

This results in 

With a scribe handling notes and order entry, physicians see up to 20-30% more patients per shift. 

This boosts productivity and revenue for the department; it also means shorter wait times and a better experience for patients and their families.

What are the costs of using an emergency department scribe?

Yes, emergency department scribes are a substantial upfront investment for hospitals and healthcare organizations. 

Scribe salaries can range from $10 to $20 per hour, depending on location, experience, and credentials. 

However, most emergency departments employ scribes on a part-time basis, with an average of 20-30 hours per week.

At an average rate of $15/hour for 25 hours a week, a scribe would cost about $19,500 per year in salary alone.

But, when you factor in additional costs like training, benefits, and administrative overhead, the total cost per scribe can balloon up to $25,000 to $35,000 annually.

Still, that can be offset by the fact that the more scribes an emergency department employs, the lower the cost per scribe. Some hospitals start with a trial of just 2-3 scribes to assess the benefits before expanding the program.

Some emergency departments have found that scribes pay for themselves within the first year of implementation through improved physician productivity and patient volume alone.

The evolving role and training of emergency department scribes

Healthcare is still growing, and so is the role of the emergency department scribe. 

For starters, scribes are now recognized as integral members of the healthcare team, with a growing scope of responsibilities and opportunities for career advancement.

In the last few years, advanced training programs have appeared on the scene,  focusing not just on medical terminology and documentation skills, but also on understanding clinical workflows, privacy laws, and the nuances of patient care

This comprehensive training process helps scribes be more prepared to support emergency physicians effectively, contributing to a more streamlined healthcare delivery process.

Career progression

What used to be a static role now has more paths for career advancement.

For many, starting as an ED scribe is a stepping stone into healthcare, offering A-grade experience that they can leverage for medical training or healthcare administration roles.

Now, more institutions are beginning to recognize the need for professional development opportunities for scribes, including certifications and specialized training that can open doors to higher responsibilities within the healthcare system.

Should hospitals use scribes or AI?

With the growing adoption of scribes in emergency departments to reduce physician burnout and improve productivity, many hospitals are already weighing the pros and cons of human scribes versus artificial intelligence (AI) solutions. 

No doubt, this is an important decision with a significant impact on your work environment, costs, and patient care.

On the one hand, human scribes provide an undeniable personal touch. They can build rapport with physicians and staff, understand preferences, and adapt to different communication styles. 

But, as we mentioned above, those same scribes require salaries, benefits, and office space which can cost $30,000 to $50,000 per year per scribe. 

And yes, while it’s cruel, it’s reality: they also need time off and can call in sick – or make costly mistakes. 

In contrast, AI solutions like automatic speech recognition and natural language processing are constantly available and don’t require benefits or office space. 

The upfront costs to implement an AI system are also lower and pay off faster over time through reduced staffing needs, and fewer mistakes.

That said, AI cannot match human scribes for adaptability, emotional intelligence, and nuance. 

Some low-tech AI systems still struggle with medical terminology, accents, and background noise. They may lack the human touch of a scribe who understands social cues and can rephrase or clarify as needed.

But it’s not an all-or-nothing thing! Some emergency rooms may see benefits in going with a hybrid system. 

AI can handle routine documentation and transcription, freeing up human scribes to focus on more complex cases. 

Then, scribes or doctors can also review and edit AI documentation as needed to maximize accuracy before the physician cosigns the report. 

This balanced approach provides continuity of documentation at a lower cost by leveraging the strengths of both humans and machines.

One thing is for certain: as emergency medicine becomes more data-driven, documentation needs will only increase.

And so, emergency departments should carefully evaluate their options to find the right documentation solutions for the best productivity, cost savings, and patient care. There’s probably going to be a point where human scribes alone won’t cut it. 

The changing roles of emergency department scribes

Looking ahead, the role of emergency department scribes could transform completely. 

With the ongoing digitization of healthcare, scribes may find new roles as facilitators of technology adoption among clinical staff, acting as a bridge between the fast-paced clinical environment and the precise requirements of electronic health records (EHRs) filled by AI systems.

This could include going from note-takers to editors, with expanded roles such as managing EHR systems, ensuring data quality, and supporting healthcare providers in navigating digital tools. 

Plus, the valuable experience and insights gained from working closely with medical teams could position scribes as valuable contributors to the design and implementation of future healthcare technologies.

Summing up

One thing’s for sure: emergency medical scribes make a huge impact on the way emergency doctors and teams deliver quality care. 

Most can swear that having an emergency department scribe by their side has been a total game-changer.

But now, with the emergence of AI and roles set to change, the value of scribes has been brought into question. We’d like to end on a more optimistic proposition. 

AI is set to augment existing roles, displace the repetitive ones, and create new positions that make use of our critical thinking faculties and empathy. 

Next steps

Want to bring the best of AI into your emergency room? Lindy’s cutting-edge superhuman AI can handle your note-taking in a way no human emergency department scribe could match. 

Don’t take our word for it. Try out Lindy’s 7-day trial with unlimited usage during the trial period and see why thousands of practitioners are scribing with Lindy.

Explore AI-powered, HIPAA-compliant Medical Dictation with Lindy