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Design and implementation of a cluster randomized trial measuring benefits of medical scribes in the VA.

Shafer PR, Garrido MM, Pearson E, Palani S, Woodruff A, Lyn AM, Williams KM, Kirsh SR, Pizer SD. Design and implementation of a cluster randomized trial measuring benefits of medical scribes in the VA. Contemporary clinical trials. 2021 Jul 1; 106:106455.

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BACKGROUND: Medical scribes are trained professionals who assist health care providers by administratively expediting patient encounters. Section 507 of the MISSION Act of 2018 mandated a 2-year study of medical scribes in VA Medical Centers (VAMC). This study began in 2020 in the emergency departments and specialty clinics of 12 randomly selected VAMCs across the country, in which 48 scribes are being deployed. METHODS: We are using a cluster randomized trial to assess the effects of medical scribes on productivity (visits and relative value units [RVUs]), wait times, and patient satisfaction in selected specialties within the VA that traditionally have high wait times. Scribes will be assigned to emergency departments and/or specialty clinics (cardiology, orthopedics) in VAMCs randomized into the intervention. Remaining sites that expressed interest but were not randomized to the intervention will be used as a comparison group. RESULTS: Process measures from early implementation of the trial indicate that contracting may hold an advantage over direct hiring in terms of reaching staffing targets, although onboarding contractor scribes has taken somewhat longer (from job posting to start date). CONCLUSIONS: Our evaluation findings will provide insight into whether scribes can increase provider productivity and decrease wait times for high demand specialties in the VA without adversely affecting patient satisfaction. IMPLICATIONS: As a learning health care system, this trial has great potential to increase our understanding of the potential effects of scribes while also informing a real policy problem in high wait times and provider administrative burdens.

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