Answering some reader questions

An inquiring friend on Facebook asked me these questions and my response was that I've been meaning to blog about some of these things, so I'm going to bring it here and answer.

Thanks for your comments. I was curious what your take is on the state of the profession in light of the trend to offshore transcription work. Do you think there are enough nightmare overseas transcription stories to keep work stateside or will the trend only get worse? I ask, as I have seen others whine and complain about their jobs being shipped overseas, but their work product leaves a lot to be desired.

As you've noted, there are enough nightmare stories stateside to keep it going overseas. There's nothing you can say about offshore companies/MTs that you can't say about US companies/MTs. This gives rise to (one of) my mantra: If people are going to get crap, they're going to go for cheap crap.

The fact is demand remains high for QUALIFIED transcriptionists and it will remain high, although I don't predict we'll see better pay rates. There seems to be a weird bubble in the supply/demand theory when it comes to MT. This is only partly attributable to the overseas companies, something US MTs don't seem to understand or don't want to take the time to understand.

In my opinion, at least half of the US MTs who decry the poor quality of overseas transcription and pound their breasts in nationalist fervor would be surprised (and outraged) if you tell them they aren't doing that great a job themselves. They have jobs, they've been MTs for years (many of them) – how could they possibly NOT know what they're doing? (See my prior post: Not so dark, just cloudy, side of medical transcription). When I was trying to find another MT company to subcontract some work to a couple years back, we trialed 6 transcription services and found only 1 that met our standards. I was told I was too stringent, that words that didn't change the medical meaning shouldn't be counted as errors (even though they were quite plainly spelling or English word errors), that the client's requirements were picky, etc. etc. – yet all I was asking was: (1) all the words be the RIGHT ones, (2) all the relevant words that had been dictated be included in the transcription, and (3) all the words (English and medical! radical concept, I know) be spelled correctly. That was “crap” on a large scale – if the MT company owner has the attitude that the work they do is fine and my service is “just too picky,” then you can bet they have X number of MTs whose work wasn't all that great, too. Extend that down to the finer level – only 1 out of every 10 MTs we trialed made it through the initial QA process. Unfortunately for the medical records industry, those other 9 had no trouble going out and getting a job with someone else who “wasn't as picky” – and trust me, most of them had no problem letting me know that the problem was not THEM – it was ME.

Want samples? I have plenty. In the “just plain sloppy typing” category:

T: She feel about a month ago
E: She fell about a month ago

T:  loss of vision of acute eye pain
E:  loss of vision or acute eye pain

T: see my noted from
E:  see my note from

T:    difficulty with bend forward
E:    difficulty with bending forward

T: some ibuprofen and Vicodan.
E: some ibuprofen and Vicodin.

And in the “it doesn't make sense to me but that's what it sounds like so I'll guess” (aka “brain off, fingers on”) category, which assumes that the MT even knows enough to realize what's being typed is complete and utter nonsense:

T: Advair discuss,
E: Advair Diskus,

T: in case it might be the beginning of adult palsy.
E: in case it might be the beginning of Bell palsy.

T: finger reveal a nondisplaced volar placed, avulsion fracture
E: reveal a nondisplaced volar plate avulsion fracture

T: Favors test is negative bilaterally.
E: FABER test is negative bilaterally.

T: TMs are clear, with cerumen.
E: TMs are occluded with cerumen.

T: minimal form rotation
E: minimal forearm rotation

T: transit history
E: transient history

T:    with modality with unstretch exercises.
E:    with modalities and stretch exercises

T:  is no lag of thalamus noted
E:  is no lag ophthalmus noted

Now I bet anyone reading this would not disagree with me that – sloppy or ignorant – these are errors, plain and simple. So why is it most MTs blame QA when errors like this are pointed out to them?

And what really gets me is this: probably only 1 in 10 MTs was appalled. The other 9 became defensive and argumentative. If someone pointed out errors like this to me, I'd sink straight into the ground. In fact – someone did at one time. At a point when I'd been out on my own for several years, I went to work for a small company. I thought I knew my stuff – until QA got done with me. I was mortified, not only at the errors they pointed out to me, but at the realization that my training hadn't been as complete as I'd thought and that I had, for years, been making these mistakes. I took as much correction as they were willing to give me, for as long as they were willing to give it to me. I learned a LOT from those 2 QA experts and I thank them for it.

But what happens to the other 9 MTs who become defensive and argumentative? They move on to a company that's “not so hard to work for,” that's what. Do they learn anything from it? (No.) The fact that they can get another job with someone else who doesn't tell them they do a crappy job only reinforces their belief that the problem isn't them. This delusion continues despite the fact that they know nobody is actually looking at their work.

OK, back to the topic of overseas transcription – anyone who still wonders why hospitals and doctors went for the cheap crap overseas, feel free to comment.

On another note, do you see voice recognition really making inroads in the field or is the technology still too far off and too annoying to “train” to make a difference in the business?

There have been no significant advances made in speech recognition technology in the past 10 years (or more). There are technologies that make it easier to use, but the recognition engines themselves haven't changed much over that period of time. Companies like M*Modal and e-Scription require a certain (and significant) volume in order to make it worth their time to do the preliminary work required to achieve any kind of success. It will be used to increase productivity for MTs in certain sectors, but it won't eliminate jobs.

There are doctors who use it to dictate directly and there are studies that show this slows them down, resulting in either fewer patients seen or more time spent in the office. I'm not going to take the time to dredge up the references, but the information is available. From my own observations of CSR used this way, most of them aren't using it properly, which only increases the errors and the amount of time required to fix them.

The EMR is more likely to eliminate transcription jobs, especially as younger doctors enter the field. They're used to keyboarding and using computers. As the EMR software developers incorporate more blended technologies – speech, touch screen, templates, point and click – all in one package, there will be a higher adoption rate. Right now, EMRs are struggling to sell themselves. Unfortunately for them and us, they're using elimination of transcription costs as a sales point, pointing out that the system pays for itself because overall it will cost less than the practice or hospital spends on transcription. The fallacy in this is that highly-skilled, highly-paid professionals then perform the task of a medical transcriptionist – which makes absolutely no sense. Physicians struggle enough with the financial justification for an EMR; coupled with resistance to change, it has pretty much guaranteed slow adoption of EMRs, especially in smaller practices. I suggest reading the Accelerating Adoption of Healthcare IT blog, by Nick van Terheyden, MD. He made this point in his presentation at the recent TEPR conference. To put a point on it, you wouldn't find Jack Walsh typing his own annual reports or Warren Buffet manually entering stock values into the computer (well, maybe Warren does – but I'll bet Jack doesn't). Ultimately, however, the technology and programming will improve and the number of younger doctors who haven't spent the past 20 years dictating will exceed the number of physicians who have – and we'll see a greater impact on our business.

To answer the question, I see technology making inroads, but slowly. I see the cost of technology, as well as privacy and security regulations, making it more difficult for small MT services and independent MTs to stay in business.

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4 thoughts on “Answering some reader questions”

  1. Great article and good points. I commented on some of this and the challenges facing clinicians in capturing data here:
    http://navigatinghealthcare.wordpress.com/2009/02/16/online-symptom-checkers/
    I see Medical Transcription continuing to provide essential services – the change will be the move of the profession to more of a a knowledge based worker adding value. The discussion will move from how cheap can I get the line to what is the value provided by my medical editor/knowledge worker as a value added service that I want to pay for and am willing to pay more for higher quality and better service.

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