A Transcription Odyssey, Revisited

I wrote an article titled 2001: A Transcription Odyssey that was published in the July-August 2000 issue of the Journal of the American Association for Medical Transcription (JAAMT). It’s now 10 years later, a good time to revisit that article and some of the predictions I made.

Unfortunately, I don’t have the original draft I had submitted, which got sent back to me for some editing because the PTB at AAMT didn’t feel I was being positive enough about the future outlook for medical transcription. That draft would have more accurately pinpointed my predictions for the industry and how I felt about the future of medical transcription. With that caveat…

Although many transcriptionists work through the internet, they may be unaware of the scope of technological changes and the jockeying for position currently taking place. Many see a threat from offshore labor, when they should be looking at the technology that resides on their own desktop. The very tools we use to enhance productivity are also available to the computer-literate physician, especially if packaged nicely and marketed aggressively by a far-sighted company. The advertising claims that physicians can replace their transcriptionists are not far-fetched. Some physicians have, in fact, done just that and are perfectly satisfied with the results. The number will increase exponentially over time, in much the same way the technology has advanced. Transcriptionists need to prepare themselves to work within the new model ofย  business that will be created by the available technology and the changing environment of business brought about by the internet.

I’m pretty sure that last sentence was part of the edit. ๐Ÿ™‚ Notice that I don’t say HOW MTs need to adapt. Quite frankly, if memory serves, I couldn’t think of a way they could that would keep them in this picture. After all, I just predicted that technology would give physicians more tools to facilitate reducing or completely eliminating medical transcription.

At the time the article was written, the AMA reported that 59% of physicians weren’t even using computers. I wasn’t able to find a recent study, which suggests to me that there’s an assumption that medical practices and healthcare facilities are using computers, including mobile devices.

My updated prediction is that this trend will continue and we’ll see an even bigger spike as more computer-literate physicians enter practice. They will not only be less resistant to entering data into the computer directly, they’ll be more proficient at it than their predecessors.

I also predict that as more computer-literate patients enter the system, and as technology advances, we’ll see patients entering their history directly into an EMR, either at the doctor’s office or online. Or, if interoperability issues are resolved, retrieved from a PHR. I predict updates will take place the same way, so you can review the history the physician or facility has for you and enter any updates or changes. As EMRs evolve and improve, the information you give the doctor will be available to any other facilities or offices in the system. There are already systems that share information with providers across the system. As always, the technology will only improve over time. Young adults who have used computers most or all of their life won’t wonder why they’re being asked to type in this information themselves – they’ll wonder why it isn’t available, or why they have to enter the same information multiple times in multiple places. I think there will even come a point when speech-to-text is so accurate that this data entry will take place in the form of speech, combined with touch screen and keyboarding.

A new tool becoming available to the individual transcriptionst and smaller business owners is the application service provider (ASP)… The purpose is to provide an “enterprise” solution for physicians (in plain English – one-stop shopping). By giving physicians access to something everyone knows they utilize, the portals hope to entice them to take advantage of other services and/or goods being sold through the portal. The advantage an ASP can give transcriptionists as a by-product is more equal footing with the large services. Access to both physicians and other transcriptionists becomes a possibility, at a price that is not beyond reach. It will no longer be necessary to take a deep breath, hyperventilage, then sign a five-year lease agreement for $60,000 worth of digital dictation equipment that will be obsolete before the lease is up. ASP networking will allow transcriptionists to work with each other to coordinate coverage for peak periods and time off… The ASP model provides state-of-the-art networking and upgrades inclusive with the other services offered.

I’m not sure the ASP model has been of great benefit to the independent MT, working solo or in small groups to provide service to select physicians. I think it has been of benefit to small transcription services looking for growth opportunities. In the past ten years, a model used by some ASPs is to do the marketing and sales, then contract with various independent MTs and small MTSOs to perform the work. In this scenario, the ASP sets the price to the client, not the MT or the MTSO. Like everything else, the ASP market has continued to evolve, with multiple acquisitions, change of ownership, mergers, and some winners and losers. Very few of them partnered with portals; instead, they became transcription platforms, with interfacing on the client end for compatibility with whatever technology the client used. Companies like InterFix made it easier to interface the ASPs with the multiple hospital IT systems and recently, in partnership with AHDI, created the Benchmark KB, a desktop application for transcriptionists that interfaces with various transcription platforms. The value of the Benchmark KB is that it reduces training and learning curve for transcriptionists working for a company that uses more than one platform.

Although currently many physicians remain blissfully ignorant of templates, macros and normals, that will change as doctors become more computer literate and money gets tighter. I predict more transcriptionists will be requested to discount or not charge for templates or normals.

I think I got this one right. ๐Ÿ™‚ What I missed completely was that anyone would not count spaces! I also missed that there would be transcription services (in my experience, predominantly overseas services) that would use this as a selling point, not only discounting the characters contained in templates, macros and normals, but also undercutting prices at the same time, further eroding the rates charged by US-only companies and the earning ability of medical transcriptionists here in the US.

The next level for speech recognition will be speaker-independent recognition. Translated for the technophobe, the technology will be able to understand the dictator who is your worst nightmare, with very little user training.

This prediction was accurate, in fact. Not that no training at all is required, but companies providing server-based (also known as back end) speech recognition do train the speech recognition engine, but they do it using a library of digital dictation files obtained from the system. Physicians are not required to sit and train the engine. Most of them are told they don’t need to change their dictation habits, which is more for the purpose of getting them to adapt to the system than anything else because there certainly would be a benefit to the accuracy of the documents if the physicians were willing to make some changes.

The question for transcriptionists is: will it matter if recognition accuracy is 100% when grammar, punctuation, syntax and language usage are not (how shall I say this?) – exactly representative of a strong foundation in English? My prediction is that it won’t. I believe as long as the document says what the dictator means it to say in a relatively clear (i.e., defensible) fashion, it will be accepted… While we may wring our hands that the quality of patient care is being compromised, who is actually compromising it – the physician, the transcriptionist, or the software used to create the transcript? Ultimately, the responsibility belongs to the physician. The more we try to take ownership of this responsibility, the more liability we expose ourselves to – a questionable tactic for assuring job security.

Well, I feel my crystal ball was working really well on this one and I probably don’t need to add anything to this.

If you don’t know the difference between DOS and Windows programs, it’s a reasonable conclusion that brushing up on your tech knowledge is necessary. I predict a future where computer literacy will be tested along with English literacy, and not just in the MT profession.

I found the following excerpts in current job listings for medical transcriptionists:

Cerner experience preferred. No satellite.

Meditech Client experience.

Are you reasonably computer literate? (This may be tested.)

Familiarity with transcription platforms (M*Modal, eScription, DocQScribe, and Spantel) a plus.

We are looking for editors who have had experience with the M*Modal platform.

You must have the necessary software (EditScript MT) and equipment (IN-DB9 or IN-USB pedal) in place with Microsoft word and a current electronic medical spell check loaded, ready to work.

Computer that is no older than 3 years. High-speed cable or DSL connection. Air card and satellite will NOT be supported. Internet service with AOL is not supported. RAM (memory) – 512 MB minimum. Hard Drive – 40 GB minimum. External computer speakers with volume control knob and headset plug-in. Good quality headset. USB port foot pedal. CD-ROM drive.

You MUST know how to use a FTP program to download and upload work. … Please DO NOT APPLY if you do not hve the required equipment or know how to use a FTP program.

I think it’s pretty obvious that computer literacy has become an essential part of the job, and we’re way past having to differentiate between DOS and Windows! What’s also become important is having a computer that has up-to-date software and current software. It would be difficult to find a job listing that doesn’t include software and hardware requirements, as well as internet connection requirements.

The article also completely neglected any mention of how technology would impact US medical transcription by facilitating overseas competition. Because digital technology and file transfer was available in 2000, I know overseas competition was a big concern for US MTs at that time. I’m not sure why I left out any mention of it – whether I was asked not to, or whether it was based on my opinion that there’s nothing you could say about overseas medical transcription that you couldn’t also say about onshore medical transcription, or whether I felt it had no place in a discussion that was about technology – I’m not sure. My memory isn’t what it used to be. ๐Ÿ™‚

My crystal ball says that medical transcription as we know it will continue to deteriorate in both value and pay, and that advances in technology and a burgeoning population of computer literate physicians will contribute to that. We keep hearing that medical transcriptionists need to change their skill set and adapt in order to survive, and I agree with that. However, I see it evolving to an increasingly clerical position, with pay rates comparable to a clerical position. What MTs need to decide is whether or not they want to continue to work in the evolved position, at the evolved pay rates.

Hopefully, I’ll be around in another 10 years to see if the predictions I’m making here will take place.

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3 thoughts on “A Transcription Odyssey, Revisited”

  1. So, will I hit the lottery next week? ๐Ÿ™‚

    At my ortho office, you make your appt online, you enter your initial history online, you check your labs online…. and that was 2 years ago. I’ve (thankfully) not had to go back recently but these docs were embracing technology BIG TIME. Pretty soon, medical schools will be graduating physicians who never knew life BEFORE computers…. sigh.

  2. I will say that one thing I have seen is that many MTs are outpacing the MTSOs when it comes to equipment. How many ads state “no Windows 7” or “no 64-bit OS”? It is actually difficult to, and has been for about a year now, get a machine that does not have Windows 7 64-bit installed.

  3. I agree 100% with your predictions. VR was a problem that other MTs were dealing with (in increasing frequency) and not me as I was at a medium-sized MTSO straight typing only, not feeling the looming changes to the profession until they started VR, moving my account on first. I felt like someone pulled my hands off my eyes and I was forced to see the future of MT. I have a friend who is the owner of a very small MT company with local accounts only, and try as I might to get her to take her hands off her eyes, she stubbornly insists that none of her accounts will ever be lost to VR or point-and-click EMR or India. She actually did have one account that she lost to India but then they came back six months later because the quality was so poor, so her conclusion is that ALL India work is terrible and not a threat to her. But I digress…

    I remember 10+ years ago or so everyone was so worried about India and I do wonder what VR editing rates would look like today had India not ever come into play. Maybe they would be better, maybe not. All I know is that I don’t like the MT/ME job description or pay anymore and it’s time for me to find something new. Anyone who thinks that the hands on the progress and technology clock are just going to magically turn back and we will have better pay and straight typing only and nothing will go overseas is living in a sad state of delusion.

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