Doctorpreneurs of Doctology is pleased this week to showcase an interview with Dr Phebe O'Mullane, founder of MedScribe.
Phebe is an emergency specialist working in a busy community hospital in regional coastal Queensland. She grew up in and around Melbourne and will always claim that as her hometown.
She did an undergraduate degree in music and biology in Virginia, USA before returning to Sydney, Australia for medical school and ED training. She enjoys the swim/bike/run sport of triathlon, as well as trail running.
What organisation / startup did you found?
I founded a company called MedScribe (www.medscribe.com.au), where we recruit and train pre-med students to be experts in documentation and clerical tasks.
I train medical scribes to work alongside busy doctors, acting as their personal assistant taking care of the paperwork and admin tasks, so the doctor can focus on their patients and the art of medicine. This allows my colleagues to work at the top of their license and brings efficiency into the right setting.
What is its noble purpose?
To ease the ever-increasing burden of data entry that has come with the advent of electronic health records, higher patient loads, and increased documentation requirements, which is contributing to longer hours, failing morale and burnout.
I am trying to bring back the joy of practicing medicine, where my colleagues can spend more focused time at the bedside with patients, and offload the mundane tasks of notes and letter-writing to an IT savvy, fast-typing premed student excited about the exposure to real medicine. It improves efficiency by up to 25%, which reclaims hours in the day.
And it is up to the doctors to chose how they spend it – getting home on time, seeing a few extra patients to cut down their long waiting list, or just having a real lunch break. It is a win-win-win. The doctors love it, the patients love it, and the scribes love it.
Tell me about the first 10 years of your life?
I grew up in the country, riding horses with my siblings and watching baby animals come into the world. My family and I lost everything in Ash Wednesday Bushfires, prompting my parents to move to Melbourne. That meant a new school, new friends and a new direction in life.
I would not wish for that tragedy to befall us again, but it changed the course of my life and I am not sure where I would be now if we had stayed in the country. Most likely I would have still attended medical school but you never know. I think if I was not a doctor, I would be involved somehow with food. I am a foodie for sure, and always thinking about my next meal.
What age were you when you had your first paying job? What was it?
I think I was about 8 or 9, stuffing envelopes at my dads office. I think I got paid $5 for the day.
What made you want to be a Doctor and what speciality did you choose?
I have always enjoyed dissecting things. I grew up catching a lot of fish and hunting rabbits, and I was always the first one ready with the knife to gut "the kill" and see what was inside the stomach. I just loved discovering what the fish had been eating and what we needed to use for bait next time!
When I did my undergraduate degree in USA I was a medical scribe myself, working in a busy community ED (Emergency Department). I absolutely loved the variety of medicine that those ED doctors practiced, and I identified with their keen interest for the diagnostic side of medicine.
They also seemed to have the balance right – work hard, but then handover your patients and head home without being on-call. Plus, no "all-day" ward rounds! I was totally sold on ED and have never looked back.
What made you want to be an Entrepreneur? When exactly did you decide?
I was experiencing the frustration of feeling inefficient, because of the time required to see the patient and then type out my notes. There was this constant pressure to see more patients faster, because the waiting rooms are getting busier. But as a result the notes were not of the standard I wanted (and probably not of the standard my medical indemnity group would want either!). I knew there was a smarter way to practice medicine and so I came up with one solution to the problem.
Documentation is one of the biggest bug-bears of any medical practitioner these days, and everywhere I look people are having the same challenge. And I knew it was crazy to pay the highest trained medical professionals to type notes and do data entry. So once I became an emergency specialist and had more control over where and how I worked, I decided that there was a need in Australia for scribes. And I was probably the best placed person to implement them, since I was a scribe 20 years ago.
I facilitated the first trial in Australia which was very successful in proof of concept, and the subsequent trials have all shown the benefits of working with scribes, including: increased patient numbers seen per shift/day, increased throughput of patients through ED, decreased length of stay, and financially significant productivity gains.
Studies also show that doctors report feeling less tired and less stressed, despite the heavy workload. And patients appreciate the undivided attention of the doctor, who has stepped away from the computer and is present with the patient.
Are you still practicing as a Doctor now? If yes do you intend to stop if your organisation takes off?
Yes, I absolutely love my job as an emergency specialist. I go to work everyday looking forward to a challenge, working with a great team, and most importantly trying to give my patients the best ED experience possible, because no-one wants to be there! If I can make it less horrible, less stressful or less painful for them, then I’ve done my job well.
I do not intend on stopping my work – I enjoy it too much. In a few years I might wind back my clinical workload, but I still have a lot to contribute and cant imagine not being involved in emergency medicine in some way for the next 10-20 years.
Why do you think traditionally many Doctors struggle with entrepreneurship?
I think medicine is a very traditional profession, based on altruism and a “calling”. And therefore for some, the dichotomy of making a business out of medicine may seem like a contradiction.
For me personally, however, I believe it takes people in the profession to be able to see the problems and therefore are best placed to discover the solution. Most of us in medicine have had a great idea as the result of some challenge we have faced, but most of us don’t act on those ideas. It is by putting the idea into motion that we can start to make a difference. And isn’t that what all of us want to do?
What is your favourite quote?
“When we change the way we look at things, we can change the way things look”.
What would you do in the event of a Zombie Apocalypse?
Probably head to work and wait for all the patients to roll through the door…