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So Long, Live Scribes? As Pandemic Presses On, Virtual Scribes Gain Popularity

As Pandemic Presses On, Virtual Scribes Gain Popularity

Sure, life as we once knew it is night and day different than it was just 18 short months ago, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. One segment of healthcare shifting quickly is the labor market—in particular, employee live medical scribes who work in clinics and hospitals.

Due to the challenges of finding quality hires, and having more people within the clinic space, the pendulum has swung from live scribes—those who physically enter the room with the physician—to virtual scribes—who attend the physician/patient encounter via secure audio connection. In a time when companies like Zoom continue to watch their revenue skyrocket and the phrase “let’s hop on a call” might as well be added to the dictionary, it only makes sense that this particular niche would expand.

COVID-19 Fueled the Initial Shift

Due to COVID-19, we will continue to err on the side of caution and keep a six-foot distance from one another whenever possible. So, adding another person into an already-tight exam room isn’t exactly ideal.

So, while live scribes and virtual scribes deliver similar benefits, the physical presence of a live scribe brings about its own set of downfalls—downfalls that are having a domino effect. For the patient, the scribe and the physician, introducing a third individual into the room automatically sets up an increased chance for exposure to COVID-19. As a result, many in-person scribes are opting out of a job that puts them in close proximity to sick patients.

Nationwide Employment Problem Impacting Live Scribe Availability

While a shortage of new live scribes was likely already underway before the pandemic, the higher burnout rate for healthcare jobs has exacerbated the problem. This problem is nowhere near as severe for virtual scribes. According to an article by Fortune, “As the pandemic led patients to shun clinics and hospitals, many scribes were laid off or furloughed. Many have returned, but scribes are increasingly working online—even from the other side of the world.”

Yes, while a large portion of the live scribe workforce in the U.S. is comprised of aspiring medical students, who take on the role for a limited time before their studies take over their time, virtual scribe positions in countries like India are valued as longer-term careers.

Low Pay Plays a Part

Another reason for the shift from live to virtual scribes is the relatively low pay that is often associated with live scribes. In many cases, these professionals are only making $11 to $12 per hour.

And, although many live scribes view the job as valuable to their education, labor shortages in other lines of work have created better paying opportunities—quite appealing to someone facing a future mountain of student debt. Recent inflation in the U.S. only compounds the issue. According to a recent article by the Washington Post, “Average hourly earnings are up 5.1 percent on the year, a significant increase after years of middling growth. But inflation is more than wiping out those gains; when adjusted for the costs of rising prices, earnings are down 1.1 percent on the year.”

So, it’s no wonder that many people who previously worked as live scribes are no longer interested. In comparison, Virtual Scribes can be located anywhere, including in lower-cost countries like India, where scribes earn middle-class wages. This is certainly contributing to the shift from live to virtual scribes that we continue to see.

Reliability Reigns Supreme

When all is said and done, what matters most to clinicians is that the scribe service they’re paying for is always available and performs at a high level. If not—no matter what the reasoning—clinicians are going to seek a more reliable scribe service. In today’s healthcare landscape, more and more clinicians are finding that reliability with virtual scribes.

With virtual scribes, physicians don’t have to wonder if their scribe is going to show up for their shift; they know that when the time comes, the virtual scribe—or a designated back-up virtual scribe—will be there to assist them. As researchers Katie Walker, MBChB, FAC of the Faculty of Medical, Nursing and Health Sciences at Monash University in Melbourne Australia and Heather Heaton, MD of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota concluded in a report published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine in February 2021: “We suspect the scribe industry will evolve, with virtual options becoming standard.”


Physicians Angels is the industry’s first virtual scribe company, providing real-time documentation directly into the physician’s EMR, along with Virtual Back Office services. Our services save the physician an average of 10 hours per week, thereby improving patient throughput and contributing to a better work/life balance for the physician and office staff. To learn more, visit physiciansangels.com or contact us.

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Physicians Angels

More time for physicians to see more patients, provide better care, and live their lives. Physicians Angels provides one-of-a-kind EMR data management services to healthcare providers through our real time Virtual Scribe service.