The days of 24-hour turnaround time are over. That’s a bitter pill to swallow for some old-fashioned medical transcriptionists. Not so long ago, we would drive to an doctor’s office, pick up micro cassettes, drive home, transcribe them, print them, and drive them back to the doctor’s office the next day to exchange the finished documents and erased tapes for more tapes filled with dictation.
What a difference a decade makes. Now, a doctor dictates into a digital recorder, uploads the dictation to a file server and a transcriptionist retrieves and transcribes it, often directly into the patients’ electronic medical records, and often all in the space of 6, 4, or even 2 hours.
Why the rush?
In an article by Ann Donnelly, Owner of Transmedical Services, Inc. in Miramar, Florida, and ADHI District 6 Director, she says, “The healthcare documentation sector is being transformed by the changing healthcare environment. Now is the time to address the increasing complexities in healthcare documentation that are being driven by the rapid changes in technology and the need for quality and accuracy of documentation. Faster turnaround times must be met while at the same time lowering the costs associated with documentation.”
More time demands are being made on physicians and their staffs to complete documentation as soon as humanly possible. Many portions of a record have to be completed even before the patient leaves the office so that a summary of his/her encounter can be printed and sent home with the patient. Internal and external regulations require that documentation of the encounter be “closed” within a strict time frame. Turnaround time is also critical to accelerating the billing cycle.
Jane, stop this crazy thing! *
How can this vortex of demands for increasingly faster turnaround times be slowed down to a reasonable pace? The answer to that depends on how much doctors and their governing bodies are willing to sacrifice. It comes down to quality for quantity. Bob Thomas, an HIM consultant for transcription and computer-assisted coding, described it well when he said, “Think of it as a triangle. If you shorten any one of those sides, it affects the others. If you shorten turnaround time, it affects quality. Something has to give. You can’t cut costs without quality or turnaround times suffering.”
Some common sense has to come into play here, for the sake of the patients being treated and for the sanity of the providers who treat them. There are MTSOs out there promising outrageously optimistic turnaround times. They think they have to make these promises in order to attract the business of doctors who are expecting outrageously unrealistic turnaround times. However, even though the medical documentation industry has changed dramatically, the basic principles of medical transcription must remain intact.
As medical documentation specialists, we must take the time necessary to logically evaluate the material we are transcribing, think critically about the subject matter, put the words in context with the entire encounter, procedure, or treatment being documented. And, of course, not-so-small details like proper grammar, spelling, formatting and checks and balances must be correct. Even the fastest, most efficient, most focused transcriptionist knows that a quality finished product takes time to produce.
Faster Than a Speeding Bullet
Not quite. Not now, not ever. But with all the great technology literally at our fingertips, medical transcriptionists can cut that 24-hour TAT down to an easily manageable fraction of that, and still produce a high-quality medical record.
* A famous line in the end credits of The Jetsons, for those of you who somehow lived through the ‘60s and ‘80s and missed it.