Sunday, September 16, 2007

How Have Computers Changed Dictation and Transcription?

It is still hard to believe that personal computers entered the marketplace as recently as the early 1980s. When one thinks of the dramatic changes computers have made in our lives -- especially with respect to managing information -- it is difficult to imagine how the healthcare industry ever survived without them.
Veteran transcriptionists who remember what it was like in the "Neanderthal days of transcribing" still cringe at the memory.
  • Because the needs of a hospital's Medical Record Department were usually a low priority, transcriptionists worked under the glare of fluorescent lights, on substandard machinery, while coping with office furniture that was hardly ergonomic.

  • Not only was the quality of dictated sound abominable, doctors who tried to make changes in their dictation frequently recorded over words they had previously dictated but did not intend to erase.

  • In most situations, there were only a handful of dictation machines per hospital. Physicians were forced to dictate from solitary isolation booths in the Medical Record Department.

  • Productivity could not be measured by any common denominator.

  • Nor could reports be tracked.

  • The idea of quick turnaround on time-sensitive documents was a joke.

  • Before computerized word processing became the norm, secretaries, typists, and transcriptionists were routinely expected to work with four to eight sets of carbon paper jammed into a typewriter.

  • They were forced to make corrections with rubber erasers, razor blades, and chalk.

  • If a doctor requested a transcriptionist to "Go back to where I was talking about the patient's personal history and insert a paragraph," it meant typing an entire report over from scratch.

  • If a report was lost, there was no way of retrieving an archived copy. A doctor would simply have to dictate the report again.

In those days, medical transcriptionists had to go where the information was. With today's technology, the information can come to them.

As a result, medical transcription has become a thriving cottage industry. Thanks to computers and modems, more and more people are working at home according to schedules which suit their personal needs and in environments that have been custom-tailored to their comfort.

With that in mind, let's look at the four key areas in which computers have had a dramatic impact on the process of dictating and transcribing medical reports:

Next: Dictation

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