The Effect of Medical Scribes in Emergency Departments: A Systematic Review

Kristen E Ullman, Lauren Mckenzie, Bradley Bart, Glennon Park, Roderick MacDonald, Eric J Linskens, Timothy J. Wilt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Background: Integrating medical scribes with clinicians has been suggested to improve access, quality of care, enhance patient/clinician satisfaction, and increase productivity revenue. Objective: Conduct a systematic review to evaluate the effects of medical scribes in emergency departments. Methods: Electronic databases from 2010 through December 2019. Two individuals independently reviewed study eligibility, rated risk of bias, and determined overall certainty of evidence. Data abstracted included study and population characteristics, outcomes (efficiency, patient or clinician satisfaction, financial productivity, documentation quality, cost, and training time), and the effect of compensation structure, qualifications, duties, and setting on outcomes. Results: Twenty studies (18 observational) were included; 12 from two institutions. All utilized in-person rather than virtual scribes. Fifteen were rated as serious or critical risk of bias; five were rated moderate. Findings indicate that scribes may increase patients seen per day and decrease length of stay; however, effects were small and may vary by setting and outcome measured (low certainty). Scribes may increase financial productivity; however, costs associated with developing, implementing, and maintaining scribe programs were not adequately reported. Results were mixed for door-to-room or door-to-provider time, patients left without being seen, and patient/clinician satisfaction. No studies examined the effects of scribes based on compensation structure, qualifications or duties. Conclusions: Although information quality, quantity, and applicability are limited, in-person medical scribes may improve emergency department efficiency and financial productivity. There was no information on virtual scribes. There was little information on patient or clinician satisfaction, scribe documentation quality, or whether results vary by in-house vs. contracted hiring and training.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)19-28
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Emergency Medicine
Issue number1
Early online dateMay 15 2021
StatePublished - Jul 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Health Administration, Health Services Research and Development, Evidence Synthesis Program #09-009.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021


  • medical scribes
  • scribes
  • systematic review


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