The health care field is one of the largest employers in Iredell County, and the need for personnel goes beyond doctors and nurses.
Melissa Haines, quality and operations manager at Piedmont Health Care, said one of the occupations most needed is something that few people know exists — medical scribes.
Medical scribes act as a personal assistant for physicians, providing documentation in the electronic health record and gathering information for patient visits.
Having a scribe in the room, said Dr. Dan Bellingham, allows him to focus on his patients.
“Having a scribe helps me do what I love to do — care for my patients. My focus and attention are on the patient and the problems at hand, not on documenting what we are doing. I am able to work more efficiently and effectively,” he said.
Haines said she first learned of scribes when she was an office manager for a doctor in Mooresville. That doctor used a scribe and, in addition to the benefits to the patient, the doctor was able to spend more time at home.
Haines then became an instructor to train medical scribes, and when she moved to PHC, she introduced the program there.
Soon, doctors, such as Bellingham, Dr. Harry Demetri, Dr. Angela Natali and Dr. Jips Zachariah, became firm believers in the benefits of having a scribe in the exam room.
“There are only positives I can think of with having a scribe,” Demetri said.
Demetri said the success of having a scribe is dependent on the level of training the scribe receives.
“This is where formal training plays a major role in preparing individuals for this role and the PHC program has been exceptional in this regard,” he said.
This is where Haines and other instructors play a vital role. She is among the instructors who teach a class at Mitchell Community College twice a year — once in Statesville and another in Mooresville.
The Mooresville class will begin Jan. 13 and continue through May 12. A class will be offered later next year in Statesville, Haines said.
Janet Menster, Continuing Education Allied Health coordinator for MCC, said partnering with PHC to address this need is part of what Mitchell is all about.
“We love to work with businesses in our community and develop programs that help them. We are excited for the opportunity,” she said.
A training course needed to be developed, Menster said.
She said Carol Johnson, vice president for workforce development and continuing education, was on board with the program, and Haines, along with others, helped develop the first training program.
Haines said the training could help supply the growing need for scribes.
“We need applicants,” she said. “We need more great people.”
That’s because there are at least four openings at PHC for scribes and the need is continuing to grow as more physicians realize the value of one, she said.
Zachariah is one of those physicians to realize the immense value.
“They are a tremendous help,” he said. “I can get through the day faster, patients are seen on time without much delay and the office runs a lot smoother with easy turnaround.”
Like the other doctors, Zachariah said, with the scribe taking on the responsibility of the electronic medical records, it gives him more face-to-face time with the patients and, at the end of the day, he’s able to get home earlier because he doesn’t spend time updating records.
For Natali, the scribe is providing a service that allows her to practice medicine the way she intended. “I don’t practice medicine to type into a computer. I practice medicine to help people,” she said.
A scribe, Natali said, allows her to concentrate more on talking with her patient rather than looking at a computer screen and it gives her a live transcription of the exam.
Haines said a scribe is a career unto itself or can be a gateway for someone interested in becoming a registered nurse, nurse practitioner or physician’s assistant, among other careers.
She said the ideal candidate is someone who enjoys learning, can type a minimum of 50 words per minute, with excellent spelling and grammar skills and an ability to focus on a conversation in the room. Pre-requisites for the class include completion of a medical office administrative staff training course or proof of one year of employment in a medical office and working knowledge of medical terminology.
Katelynn Smith is one of the first scribes that Haines trained. She said she was interested in a career in the medical field, and the on-the-job training aspect appealed to her. Five years into her career as a scribe, Smith said she’s glad she made that decision. “I absolutely love it,” she said.
Menster said the class takes about 18 weeks and involves 96 hours of instruction. It is a hybrid class, with two nights in the classroom and night of online instruction. “This allows more flexibility for working students,” Menster said.
Enrollment for the current class is ongoing and will continue until the first class meeting on Jan. 13 provided the class is not full. The class size is limited to 20.
Haines said she hopes those interested in a unique and growing medical career will get the training.