By Sanju Zachariah with contributions from FlexMedStaff

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Growing up, it’s common to hear from our parents and those in business, “work smarter, not harder.” In medicine, the message from many is, “see more patients, do more procedures.” It is assumed that if you work harder, you will make more money. You may make more money, but you will also be caught up in having to do more paperwork and documentation. This leads to less time with family and friends and having time off from medicine to decompress. If you are always working, then what’s the point?

Not often is their guidance on how to become more efficient. Many of us work with electronic medical records (EMRs), which tend to slow us down and lower our efficiency. Documentation is a necessary evil of medicine. Many build templates, but that can only take us so far. Knowing that we will never escape having to use an EMR, is there a way to enhance our productivity using it? Yes, one could hire a virtual scribe to streamline the documentation process for them. This article discusses how virtual scribes are compared with traditional medical scribes used in many clinics and emergency rooms.   

Most practitioners are familiar with traditional medical scribes in which individuals follow around the clinician as they care for patients. The scribe is responsible for completing the documentation required by the clinician’s electronic medical records (EMR). The scribe enters the patient’s history, pertinent physical exam findings, diagnosis, plan and outlines the clinician’s discussion with the patient. The scribe may also be responsible for ordering labs, prescribing medications, and placing referrals. Medical scribes have been shown to save practitioners time from documentation to dedicate more time to their patients. More so, the time saved documenting allows the clinician time to be with the family and friends. One major factor leading to practitioner burnout is the documentation required in 21st-century medicine. Scribes were implemented to save practitioners time from tedious documentation requirements and lessen burnout.

Virtual scribes are an alternative to traditional medical scribes. Rather than having a medical scribe available in person, a virtual scribe can work remotely yet still complete the same tasks as a conventional scribe. Like virtual assistants, most virtual scribes live overseas. They can remote into any clinic or hospital patient encounter via a teleconferencing platform. Most companies offer HIPPA-trained virtual scribes that work thru HIPPA compliant software. Virtual scribes are granted access to an EMR, similar to how a medical assistant obtains access.

Here are some advantages of a virtual scribe over a traditional scribe.

  1. Remote access. Virtual scribes do not have to travel to be onsite.
  2. Flexibility. Virtual scribes are available at any hour.
  3. Multiple scribes available. Pick one scribe or multiple to be your virtual scribe.
  4. Cheaper. A virtual scribe service is usually less expensive than an in-person scribe.
  5. Less invasive for patients. The scribe is not physically in the exam room.
  6. Audio-only. The virtual scribe does not see the patient.
  7. Trained scribes. Virtual scribes are trained beforehand.

Here are some disadvantages of having a virtual scribe.

  1. Reliant on technology. Must have working internet and microphone.
  2. Security risk. Slightly greater risk of a data breach with remote access.
  3. Lack of consistency. Not all virtual scribes will be as good as others.
  4. Language barrier. Not all virtual scribes are as proficient in English as others.
  5. Training. It may take longer to train some of your personal preferences.  

There is a growing trend of practitioners using medical scribes to enhance their work-life balance. This article proposes that practitioners should consider virtual scribes over the usage of traditional medical scribes. A virtual scribe lessens your time documenting and provides more time off! Practitioners must start to think smarter about maximizing their efficiency. Seeing two extra patients per day will pay for the cost of a virtual scribe and likely save you up to two hours of documentation time per day. When contracting directly for locums-type work, introduce your next facility to the idea of working with virtual scribes. Work smarter, not harder! Hire a virtual scribe today!

***Sanju Zachariah is the President and CEO of Portiva which was founded in 2009 to provide physicians with access to high-quality Virtual Medical Assistants and Virtual Medical Scribes. To view more about the services they provide, please see their website at Please send any inquiries to

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