The objective of an Annals of Internal Medicine study entitled, The Productivity Requirements of Implementing a Medical Scribe Program determined the number of additional patient visits various specialties would need to recover the costs of implementing scribes in their practice at 1 year.
The study determined that an average of 1.34 additional new patient visits per day (295 per year) were required to recover medical scribe costs (range, 0.89 [cardiology] to 1.80 [orthopedic surgery] new patient visits per day). For returning patients, an average of 2.15 additional visits per day (472 per year) were required (range, 1.65 [cardiology] to 2.78 [orthopedic surgery] returning visits per day). The addition of 2 new patient (or 3 returning) visits per day was profitable for all specialties.
Scribe costs were based on literature review and a third-party contractor model. Revenue was calculated from direct visit billing, CPT (Current Procedural Terminology) billing, and data from the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey.
To make the medical scribe program profitable after one year, physicians from all specialties had to see two new or three returning patients each day. This was calculated with the assumption that physicians and other health professionals would work 220 eight-hour clinic days per year and that scribe shifts mirrored that schedule.
“Providing a scribe right now might actually be the thing that keeps your providers from saying, ‘I’m going to retire. I’m opting out,’” said Dr. Laiteerapong. “If we don’t have some sort of tool that can help people with their notes right now, you could end up losing a good chunk of the workforce.”
“People could say, ‘Oh, we’re going to wait to invest in scribes later,’” she said. But “there may not be a later for many of those physicians.”
For all specialties, modest increases in productivity due to scribes may allow physicians to see more patients and offset scribe costs, making scribe programs revenue-neutral.