New scribes service allows physicians to spend more time with patients

If you see a physician in the Emergency Department at Tucson Medical Center, chances are you’ll also see a scribe close by.  A scribe is someone who essentially shadows a physician for an entire shift, putting notes and records into the computer so the doctor doesn’t have to.  It may sound simple enough, but the payoff is huge.  Less time at the computer translates into more time spent with patients—meaning shorter wait times, more meaningful interactions and overall improved quality of care.

“I find them very helpful,” says TMC Emergency Department Medical Director Dr. Rich Rosenthal.  “Scribes increase the productivity of the physician dramatically.  This allows me to circulate more and see how patients are.  I’m not tied down doing a lot of busy work.  While they’re doing some of the typing, I can go see how somebody is doing.” 

Patients benefit because their doctor is able to spend more time with them.  They can also be confident that important information about their condition will not be lost in translation.  “Having better documentation helps with the transition between us and the hospital to the specialist because there’s more information on the chart,” says emergency physician Dr. Liz McCarrell.

In addition to being a huge boon to patient care, the work of the scribes is also a significant benefit to the physicians, helping them improve their work-life balance.  “When I have a scribe, I actually go home right after my shift instead of spending the next three hours putting notes into the computer,” says McCarrell.  

TMC currently has seven scribes.  There are about two-dozen more that will be available shortly.  The scribes are all local – and are often nursing, pre-med, or medical students.  Scribe Sang Moon is in the process of applying to medical schools, and says he has no doubt this experience will help him down the road.  “Every shift, I get exposed to something new.  I’m constantly learning, every time I come here.”

Scribes go through intense training that includes rigorous classroom work.  They also spend time with a trainer inside the Emergency Department before they’re ready to work one-on-one with a physician.  Right now, they aid physicians in both the Emergency Department and the Pediatric Emergency Department.  When the program is completely rolled out, scribes will also help Physicians Assistants and Nurse Practitioners.


  1. Anonymous says:


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  3. Nina Straw says:

    Are scribes HIPPA compliant? Can you refuse to have them present when you are being examined?

    • Hi Nina. Yes, all scribes go through extensive HIPPA training. In response to your second question, any patient has the right to refuse any healthcare worker–nurses, physicians and scribes included.

  4. Elizeba Saldivar says:

    How do you apply for the program? I am interested in doing this after I graduate.

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Tucson Medical Center | 5301 E. Grant Road | Tucson, Arizona 85712 | (520) 327-5461
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