Enhancing the Practice's Lifeblood: Turnaround Time

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Voice recognition as a productivity- enhancing technology was a topic of discussion more than a year ago at the annual meeting of the Society for Imaging Informatics in Medicine. One speaker, a radiology administrator, described his hospital’s adoption of voice recognition as a boon to getting work done more rapidly. He told those in attendance at the Providence, RI, meeting that his radiologists were able to generate reports in a fraction of the time it once took. Typical turnaround times for the group were now on the order of just 30 to 40 minutes.

There is debate, however, as to whether voice recognition, despite allowing swifter turnaround of reports, actually improves productivity. Fred Gaschen, MBA, executive vice president of Radiological Associates of Sacramento in Sacramento, Calif, says, “Manufacturers consistently talk about how voice recognition improves productivity, but what I’ve heard anecdotally from practices that have already implemented voice recognition is that it does not improve radiologist productivity and, in fact, slows down the pace of work by a small amount.”

The lowered productivity may result, in part, from radiologists using voice recognition without first having adequately mastered the system’s functions; fumbling with buttons, keys, and other controls during a dictation session costs time. There is also the inability of voice-recognition products to achieve 100% accuracy in translating voice to text. In the past, radiologists simply dictated their reports into a recorder and left it to a human transcriptionist to work things out from there; now, with voice recognition, radiologists have the added task of reviewing their dictation to verify that the system understood every word and, if not, to type in the correct text manually or spend a few moments training the system to recognize the words it missed next time.

Even so, groups using voice recognition routinely sing its praises, and the quibbling over productivity is likely to be a moot point. “There may be a few extra steps involved, but what really matters most is the fast turnaround,” Gaschen says. “The speed at which we are able to report back to our referring physicians in the community is basically our lifeblood.”

Gaschen and his radiologists are still in the early stages of evaluating voice recognition. Consequently, from their perspective, the full benefits of the technology have yet to be realized, but those already being enjoyed are considerable. Gaschen says, “Where we’re seeing significant improvement is in report turnaround time. I’ve been a proponent of voice recognition for a very long time. When I first entered the field of radiology 25 years ago, having reports turned around in two days was considered very fast. Now, fast is having a report completed and delivered in under two hours.”