The Fate of Medical Transcriptionists and the Advancements of Voice Recognition Technology

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GetAttachmentMedical transcription is a lesser-known profession to the general public in spite of the fact that medical transcriptionists (MTs) are a part of everyone’s health care.  Medical transcriptionists transcribe the dictated recordings made by doctors or health care professionals into reports, correspondence, and other administrative documents.  An example, familiar to anyone who has watched one of the highly popular crime dramas on television is when a medical examiner is seen saying the findings of an autopsy out loud; it is a MT who turns that recording into a written report.  In addition to autopsy reports, MTs are also responsible for referral letters, discharge summaries, diagnostic imaging studies, medical histories, physical examination reports, operative reports, and consultation reports.  The completed transcript is returned to the professional who dictated it for review, signature, and movement into the patients file.

The future and security of MT’s jobs has begun to be questioned as voice recognition (VR) technology becomes increasingly refined.  VR converts spoken words into text, potentially eliminating the need for MTs.  Proponents for VR advertise how VR will save medical professionals thousands of dollars over employing MTs.  However, the reality is VR is nowhere near refined enough to replace MTs. 

VR technology would need to be able to “understand” different accents, separate background noise from what is being dictated, and convert any abbreviations used into their full form.  In addition, context plays a large role in understanding spoken language.  VR needs to “understand” context to differentiate between: urine vs. you’re in, cauterize vs. caught her eyes, align vs. a line, dilate vs. die late, and so on before it can replace MTs.

Currently, VR for the purpose of medical transcription is being used in two ways, front-end VR and back-end or deferred VR.  Front-end VR creates a report that rarely goes through an MT but is more time consuming for the medical professional.  Medical professionals using front-end VR dictate into a recognition system and the words are displayed on a monitor as they are spoken; the dictator is responsible for catching mistakes, editing, and completing the document for sign off.  The question for professionals using front-end VR is; is editing reports a better use of their time than seeing additional patients?

Back-end VR is when a recording of what is being dictated is played and a draft document is created.  Both the draft document and voice recording are sent to an MT who listens to the recording, edits the draft, and finalizes the report for sign off.  Back-end VR is the most common form of VR being used in medical transcription.  Back-end VR has made medical transcription more efficient and helps MTs generate more reports in less time.

VR will not make MTs obsolete. The duties and responsibilities of MTs may change due to advancements in VR technology but the day when VR completely eliminates the need for MTs is not in the foreseeable future.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the outlook for job opportunities for MTs is good. The aging baby boomer population will increase the demand for MTs.  Employment opportunities for MTs are projected to grow faster than the average.  A 14 percent growth is expected between 2006- 2016; in 2006 98,000 MTs were employed, by 2016 112,000 MTs are expected to be employed.  MTs jobs are secure and they should view VR as a tool to aid them in their job, not as threat.

About the Author: Erika Christenson is a Staff Writer with the Clear Medical Solutions Communication Team.  Her work is regularly shared on the Clear Medical Agency newsletter and the ClearNursingMatters.com blog. 

References:

Bureau of Labor Statistics “Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2008-09 Edition.”

http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos271.htm

 MedGenMed “Voice Recognition and Medical Transcription” August 27, 2004.

http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=1435648

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2 Responses to “The Fate of Medical Transcriptionists and the Advancements of Voice Recognition Technology”

  1. Sonya Says:

    Thank you for this article. It is very interesting and informative. No telling where MTs will end up in a few years.

  2. Judy Barry Says:

    Your blog is well written. I only wish to offer one point of rebuttal. With the implementation of electronic medical records, one of the byproducts of EMR is the ability for physicians to write their own reports (often not available in older systems and mainframe applications). Younger physicians often prefer typing their own reports, and generally all physicians are encouraged to do so in order to save money. The net effect is that transcriptionists’ work queues diminish or are obliterated by physicians completing their own reports. For example, in the San Francisco Bay area, our hospitals will be laying off approximately 75% of existing transcription staff by the end of 2010. This is directly a result of EMR making it possible to complete reports directly rather than through transcription staff. It surprises me that DOL data gives such a positive outlook for this field.

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