The Data Scribe

There’s an interesting piece in the New Yorker about technology in the medical field from Atul Gawande. It talks about the love hate relationship doctors have with medical systems, and ruminates a bit about whether these new systems are making medicine better or worse. I think Dr. Gawande is a very interesting individual, and whose Checklist Manifesto is a great look at improving processes.

The article talks about the struggles of doctors with using various systems, but there is one interesting solution that some companies have tried: medical scribes. For these companies, rather than teach a doctor everything and have them do their own work and spend less time with a patient, the meetings are either recorded or witnessed by a scribe. The scribe handles the computer work, writing down observations, notes, orders, etc. The doctor later approves things, but this allows the doctor to focus more on patient care and get less caught up in technology.

Years ago I worked in a company that had some extensive technology in some areas, but some older senior management. There were still secretaries that literally took dictation, handled schedules, and printed reports for the senior executives, who almost never used their computers. The might pull up some emails, but anything that required more than a few keystrokes was dictated to a secretary who wrote and sent the emails. At the time I thought this was wasteful, after all, couldn’t an executive type a few emails themselves?

I thought of that experience while reading the other story about doctors. Certainly the executives could type emails, but not as well as others, and was that a good use of their time? Certainly today, with far too much communication being sent, I might argue executives ought to have less access to email, not more. Certainly upper level execs do have assistants, but is it really a good use of time for directors and managers to be dealing with many of our computer applications?

What about report tools like Power BI and Tableau? Is that a good use of anyone’s time in finding data and assembling it into reports? The analysis is, but tracking down data, formatting it, and more feels like something that is a skill in and of itself.

Perhaps we need data scribes in more industries. Not a single employee dedicated to one person, but a specialist in the gathering and cleaning of data, preparing it in tools that business people then use to perform their analysis, working for multiple people. Need more data? Ping your data scribe, someone that knows the structure, meaning, and location of data.

Would you want that job? I know I’ve done this at times for people, finding the data they need and producing a report, often showing them how to do it themselves, but I wonder if that’s a good idea. With data changing, new sources appearing, stronger access controls and more, perhaps this is a role that more companies ought to embrace to ensure that those with experience analyzing data aren’t spending time fiddling with it.

Steve Jones

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