I recently had two particular paperless lab experiences in the healthcare sector that I thought could give us a different perspective on the paperless lab and how people use it.

Two Examples
About a month ago, I was watching a doctor using his healthcare portal. He had to spend a lot of time going back-and-forth between the patient and his screen. At one point, he said that he felt the computers got in the way of him having face-to-face time with his patients. The way he had to swivel back-and-forth to look the patient in the eye and to then type in the computer did seem awkward and I wondered if it was off-putting to the patient.

A few weeks later, in a similar situation, a different doctor entered an examining room with another person in-tow. The doctor introduced himself and his “scribe.” He explained that the scribe was there to take all his notes on the patient. In this case, the doctor was able to have full eye contact with the patient. He occasionally looked at the scribe but was mainly able to give the patient his full and undivided attention as the scribe pounded away on the keyboard with all the notes that needed to be taken.

How it Applies to Our Industry
Most companies can’t afford to hire scribes for their people. However, if there are people in the organization that need to use your paperless lab but who can’t or won’t learn it, there might be times when hiring a scribe is the best recourse. Where you have workers who have become both important to your operations but also out-of-date in their computer skills this could be an option.

Normally, I’m under the impression that some of the C-level people have administrative assistants and others who enter data and run reports for them, although this is not true at many companies. But there might be other areas where a person’s input is so very important but they are entirely unwilling or unable to learn how to do it that this might be an alternative.

The Worst Case
I’ve worked in situations where the company has specific people who refuse to enter their data in the system and that data just goes unentered. In most companies, that’s the worst thing that can happen – it’s terrible when data goes unentered and eventually becomes lost, because most people would no longer think to look for a paper copy – if they don’t find it on-line, they think it doesn’t exist.

Instead of letting that happen, and if you’re really going to keep that person and in a position where their input is needed, this is one possibility to consider.

Gloria Metrick
GeoMetrick Enterprises

6 Thoughts to “Scribes for the Paperless Lab”

  1. Very interesting Gloria. Do you think that a video/voice recording and/or a speech recognition and transcribing system could be an alternate approach? Do you see these types of technologies used in the laboratory?

    I, personally, am very intrigued by hands-free laboratory automation technology that I have seen and have high hopes for eventual use of Google Glass in the lab.

  2. I have not worked with these in the lab. I’d personally tried some of the speech recognition software in my own office, it’s got it’s good and bad points. Also, it does sound as if labs such as forensics labs do use these. Apparently, they really can’t be touching thing so they have to try to rely on these types of tools. So, I think there’s the possibility these types of tools could be used outside of the places they’re already used but is probably something of a training issue to get people comfortable with them.

    But the problem is that the speech recognition software doesn’t get you out of knowing how to use the system, it just keeps you from having to type. For those people who refuse to learn how to use the system, you’d have to create some kind of macro that does the entire task for them. That’s where a human being “scribe” could work well, because you could train the scribe to probably do the data entry as well as creating macros.

    If you had to do this for a truly minor number of tasks, you might be able to create macros or programs to handle it but I think if the person truly resists getting into the system, in the first place, they might not be willing to use the macro/program.

  3. Terry Iorns

    In a GLP/GMP environment, I wonder how the FDA feels about somebody other than the analyst entering results and observations? At a minimum, needs to be covered by SOP.

  4. Good point Terry! Perhaps the scientist would have to review all data and electronically sign to verify the authenticity. Even so, an SOP would definitely be required to cover this type of thing.

  5. Paul Kemp

    Gloria, in previous implementations we have investigated the use of ‘smart’ pens to help with data entry. These use specially formatted paper forms and pens which record what was written in what field. Then the software employs OCR to convert the text to something that can be uploaded to a LIMS. It works when wireless pads are not available, but it does involve a bit of set up.

  6. Paul, that’s interesting to hear because I have so many customers who don’t necessarily have lots of equipment everywhere and who don’t want to invest in tablets or where they really just aren’t practical to use.

    By the way, there are also pens can also do voice recognition – where you speak into them and then come back and load them into your computer at a later time.

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