- Associated Press - Saturday, June 7, 2014

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - When Ron Meyer visits his doctor, there’s always a third person in the room.

Recently, it was Allyson Untiedt, 24, of Minneapolis, who is one of the small but growing number of “scribes” working in medical clinics and hospitals across the Twin Cities.

Scribes accompany physicians in exam rooms and help document what happens during a patient’s visit. They tend to a patient’s chart before the exam — so doctors can quickly find the lab and test results they need — and help physicians complete documentation chores afterward.

“For somebody who is interested in the medical profession, it’s an excellent opportunity,” said Untiedt, a scribe at the HealthEast Midway Clinic in St. Paul who plans to attend medical school in August.

With a scribe in the room, Dr. William Brombach says, he can focus on patients such as Meyer rather than computerized medical charts. Clinic administrators should like it, Brombach adds, because scribes help make sure the clinic submits a bill for all services provided.

And patients?

“I’m very open to a scribe sitting there and listening to everything, because that’s the way they learn,” said Meyer, 77, of New Brighton.

Not everyone is a believer, the St. Paul Pioneer Press (http://bit.ly/SrKzkw ) reported.

Clinics pay anywhere from $10 to $25 per hour for a scribe, and can’t bill insurance companies for their work. So, some clinic administrators question whether doctors with scribes truly generate productivity gains that cover the extra expense.

At HealthEast, some believe scribes won’t be necessary, Brombach said, once the health system adopts a new electronic medical record system this year.

Dr. Donald Gehrig, a St Paul physician in private practice, said doctors working with scribes likely feel pressure to see more patients in order to cover the cost of a scribe.

Patients might be reluctant to talk about issues ranging from sexual health issues and marital problems to abuse in the home when there’s a scribe in the room, Gehrig said. Many physicians are willing to accept scribes, he added, because they’re struggling to handle increased demands for documentation created by electronic health record systems.

“It’s a perverse adaptation of electronic recordkeeping required for billable, code-able health care, which is not medical care,” Gehrig said. “Doctors like it better than having to go home and type notes until 10 p.m.”

Patients can always ask scribes to leave the room if they want privacy with their physician, said Marcin Kubiak, the operations director with Elite Medical Scribes, a Bloomington company that employs more than 500 scribes. But he says it “very rarely happens” because patients tend to be happier when a scribe is around, since they have the doctor’s attention.

Founded in 2008, Elite Medical Scribes has about 90 programs spread across 19 states. Another company that offers scribes for hire is ScribeAmerica, a Florida-based company that claims 430 practice locations in 41 states.

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