Could Speech Recognition Technology Replace Medical Transcriptionists?

Although conventional wisdom has it that speech-recognition technology, which automatically generates text from the spoken word, could one day replace medical transcriptionists, the need for a human touch in discerning language nuances ensures that flesh-and-blood transcriptionists will always be in demand.

Rather than view voice recognition technology as competition, medical transcriptionists have increasingly come to adopt it as an extra tool to help improve their speed and efficiency.

While most transcriptionists still transcribe the old-fashioned way, many use speech recognition technology to generate a rough draft that they then edit. As advanced as voice recognition has become, a human is still needed to both “train” the technology to recognize certain areas of confusion and to correct its misinterpretations.

Some of the issues that the technology has difficulty resolving include:

  • Accents
  • Homophones
  • Incorrect grammar
  • Punctuation rules
  • Differentiating multiple speakers
  • Background noise

Also, trained transcriptionists have the specialized skill to interpret the tricky nuances of medical terminology.

Front-End vs. Back-End

There are two types of speech recognition technology: front-end and back-end. With front-end, or self-editing, technology, the doctor’s words are displayed automatically as they’re spoken, and the doctor is responsible for editing them, thus eliminating the need for a medical transcriptionist. Of course, due to the labor-intensive nature of this option, front-end speech recognition is not a popular option with physicians.

Most who use the technology prefer back-end, or delayed/deferred, speech recognition, which generates a written draft after the doctor has finished speaking and sends it to a transcriptionist for editing.

Although the physical demand on transcriptionists using voice recognition technology is lessened because of the reduction in typing, the mental demand is arguably greater because of the high degree of concentration needed to simultaneously listen to dictation and review the written draft for errors. People looking to enter the field should hone not only their listening and typing skills but also their reading and editing skills.

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