Current generation electronic health records suffer a number of problems that make them inefficient and associated with poor clinical satisfaction. Digital scribes or intelligent documentation support systems, take advantage of advances in speech recognition, natural language processing and artificial intelligence, to automate the clinical documentation task currently conducted by humans. Whilst in their infancy, digital scribes are likely to evolve through three broad stages. Human led systems task clinicians with creating documentation, but provide tools to make the task simpler and more effective, for example with dictation support, semantic checking and templates. Mixed-initiative systems are delegated part of the documentation task, converting the conversations in a clinical encounter into summaries suitable for the electronic record. Computer-led systems are delegated full control of documentation and only request human interaction when exceptions are encountered.
Intelligent clinical environments permit such augmented clinical encounters to occur in a fully digitised space where the environment becomes the computer. Data from clinical instruments can be automatically transmitted, interpreted using AI and entered directly into the record. Digital scribes raise many issues for clinical practice, including new patient safety risks. Automation bias may see clinicians automatically accept scribe documents without checking. The electronic record also shifts from a human created summary of events to potentially a full audio, video and sensor record of the clinical encounter. Digital scribes promisingly offer a gateway into the clinical workflow for more advanced support for diagnostic, prognostic and therapeutic tasks.