Physician Burnout and Virtual Scribes - Arch Collaborative Summit - Cover

Physician Burnout and Virtual Scribes - Arch Collaborative Summit

Physician burnout is a huge problem in the healthcare industry. A study by the AMA tracked reported causes of burnout. It found that 55% of the 15,000 physicians they surveyed reported that administrative tasks (e.g., paperwork and charting) played a major role in their exhaustion. This picture of overwork due to administrative burden is well known and well documented. But what can be done to address the problem?

At least one health organization and a vendor partner have found a solution. At the Arch Collaborative Learning Summit, I was curious about a session where University of Wisconsin Health (UW Health) and AQuity Solutions presented together. As I listened, they elaborated on their partnership that directly addressed and aimed to reduce the administrative burden on physicians.

Implementing the Use of Virtual Scribes 

AQuity Solutions provides UW Health with virtual scribe services. Scribes are not a new means of addressing administrative burden, and their popularity has risen and fallen over the years. UW Health’s implementation and use of virtual scribes over the last couple of years has made a meaningful impact in reducing administrative burden on physicians.

The scope of UW Health’s implementation started narrow; 100 physicians from their primary care and specialty care areas were given virtual scribes and UW Health–owned technology to integrate them into care.

What were the results? In the time that these physicians have taken part in the program, three-fourths have engaged deeply with their scribe teams. They report that their time spent on administrative tasks around paperwork and charting has dropped significantly, especially during the infamous “pajama time” or after-hours documenting.

Physicians remarked that their scribes were well trained and very helpful in managing charting. Hospital administrators saw quick turnarounds in notes getting closed and work getting logged and billed.

Building an Active Partnership

AQuity Solutions spoke about how they viewed their contract with UW Health as an active partnership and worked to tailor how the virtual scribes were made available to best meet UW Health’s needs. Their focus was on building partnerships between scribes and physicians.

AQuity Solutions assigned scribe teams to specific physicians. Each physician had, on average, two scribes working with them to ensure that the physician’s schedule could always be met. This also worked to help scribes and their physicians quickly develop operational efficiency as scribes got to know the physicians they worked with and personalized their working relationship and deliverables to the physician’s needs and wants.

The virtual scribes were used via an “in-the-pocket” style. Physicians would bring iPods (owned and managed by UW Health’s IT department) with them, and the virtual scribes would listen in through the iPod, documenting bedside visits and working with physicians to complete notes.

Final Notes on the Technology and Outcomes

The advantage of having the scribe virtually present over audio live was a huge efficiency in opening and closing notes at the encounter. The scribe can discuss details and notation requests with the physician at that relevant moment. AQuity Solutions also discussed the technologies and securities used to ensure that all virtual scribing was HIPAA compliant.

Another thing to note about AQuity Solutions’ technology is that the vendor talked about how encounters could be recorded and worked on by scribes after the fact. They also mentioned that they can work with customers to use other technologies to have their scribes listening in on encounters.

By the end of the presentation, it was clear that UW Health’s implementation of virtual scribes was helpful for their clinicians. It has made a difference in their physicians’ workload and levels of burnout as well as on their financial bottom line.

Read about CEO Adam Gale's message at the start of the 2021 Arch Collaborative Learning Summit.  


Contact University of Wisconsin: Christine Williams; University of Wisconsin Health Director; Health Information Management

Contact AQuity Solutions: Dale Kivi; AQuity Solutions Senior Director Communications



Photo credit: Robert Kneschke, Adobe Stock