Scribes - a benefit or detriment to Patient Safety?

Originally posted 1-12-2011:
I recently watched an interesting BBC news item on TV about Medical Scribes.  According to the piece, the hospital was hiring medical students to do rounds with attending physicians.  The students would be in charge of documenting the notes and actions of the physician, allowing the attending to spend more time interacting with the patient.  It essentially split the physicians role into two: the caretaker that assessed the patient and made the clinical decision and the documenter of that information.  After a little searching, I found a brief description of this online. It appears the problem for physicians was the amount of time it took to document everything into the Electronic Medical Record was taking away time from interacting with the patient. 

While watching the news piece, some of my friends and I got into a discussion on whether or not this was a good idea.  The most obvious benefit is allowing the physician to take more time to focus on the patient, assess their situation, and be able to make better clinical decisions for treatment.  These are primary tasks for doctors, so it would seem the Medical Scribes would be a positive addition to the Heathcare system.  However, the addition of the Scribe can add another potential place for handoff errors.  Are there situations where the Scribe documents the wrong information or misinterprets the situation at hand?  I wondered if the physician took the time to review the notes to give the final stamp of approval to what was documented. This didn't seem clear to me while watching the TV piece, but the linked article does say, "Later, doctors check for accuracy, make any additions or corrections and sign off."  How much later though?  Right away or at the end of their shift? 

In my opinion, I do think this brings more good than bad.  I believe allowing the physicians to focus on the patient will lead to better, safer decisions and an all around better patient experience.   Like any change or addition to the Healthcare system, it is important to make sure it is implemented well to protect the patient from error.  If implemented with timely reviews and sign offs, then these sorts of handoff issues should be caught and not reach the patient.  One other thought I had from reading the linked article is whether or not the addition of Scribes is a band-aid for hard to use Healthcare software.  It's hard to say, because physicians have a high work load. But I know the consequences of poorly design software can definitely add to that work load.  I have to think this may be a nice workaround to allow the physicians to focus on who is important - the patient.