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Speech Recognition Apps: Only One Piece of a Total Health Care Solution
By Peter W. Sorrento and Tim Palmer

There are hundreds of speech recognition applications available for today’s smartphones. Some of these apps offer unique functions, but their primary utility is to transcribe voice into text. Advanced apps can help users write text messages, compose e-mails, and perform phone functions using voice.

While apps such as these are useful for basic communication, the dictation and transcription demands of clinical documentation and coding are much greater. To streamline and improve the accuracy of health care workflows, including documentation, coding, and billing, voice applications should comprise only one part of a multifaceted digital dictation and speech recognition solution that is integrated with the organization’s clinical and financial IT systems.

Speaking into a smartphone to create simple reminders or compose a quick text is convenient. For patient care and revenue cycle management, however, providers need to consider professional voice productivity tools designed specifically for the health care industry and its unique workflows.

Technology That Conforms to the Physician
Despite increasing adoption, many physicians still have concerns about implementing EHR systems. The reason for this reluctance often stems from EHR systems that require using templates that change providers’ workflows, documentation processes, and patient interactions.

On the other hand, some EHR systems have adjusted to how providers prefer to practice, whether they allow handwriting with a digital pen, typing on a tablet, or dictating at a workstation. In these cases, the organization still enjoys the data capture and analytic benefits of an EHR system, while physicians retain much of their preferred workflows.

Likewise, some speech recognition apps may not be as useful as they seem, despite the convenience of being located on a physician’s smartphone. The app may capture spoken thoughts, but the physician must then e-mail or text the information to support staff for formatting, editing, and incorporating into the appropriate document.

However, apps that are part of a complete voice recognition and digital dictation system designed for health care organizations do not require the physician or staff to go through extra steps and present benefits that voice recognition apps alone cannot offer. For example, a complete dictation solution can automatically categorize and prioritize voice recordings and route them directly from the physician’s smartphone to the appropriate clinical support staff member’s inbox.

These solutions also allow physicians to dictate in the method they prefer, such as with a microphone at a workstation or with a handheld digital recorder. This flexibility is crucial for physician acceptance, plus it offers revenue cycle benefits to the organization.

Better Transcription Translates to Better Billing
When physicians are comfortable dictating promptly after a patient encounter, the quality and quantity of patient data typically are improved. This helps more than just patient care; it also means that once the dictation is transcribed, coders and billers have better information to submit more accurate claims.

Too often, incomplete physician documentation prevents the ability to code for a service or requires downcoding the services actually performed. This means reduced reimbursement and, worse, inaccurate information in the patient chart.

With ICD-10 on the horizon, clear and accurate documentation will become even more important, but there is still a long way to go. Nearly 65% of clinical documentation currently does not contain enough information for billing under ICD-10, according to a coding expert who presented at this year’s American College of Physicians annual meeting.

Complete dictation offers one way to overcome the hurdle. Physicians who dictate promptly in their preferred environments are more likely to provide the greater detail necessary for the more granular code set. On the surface, this may appear to create more work for transcriptionists (and therefore drive up operating costs). However, a digital dictation system designed for health care environments should include speech recognition software that automatically transcribes the voice file, further streamlining the dictation workflow and data capture. A transcriptionist equipped with both the software-transcribed file and the dictated recording needs only to review and edit the transcription where necessary. If there are any questions, the recording is available to verify accuracy.

Streamlined Productivity
Physician productivity and efficiency is still crucial for long-term financial viability, even as the health care industry moves toward value-based payment models. Introducing technology such as smartphone apps should not interfere with physicians’ productivity but rather should enhance it by conforming to their workflows.

There are many speech recognition apps available, but most are of limited use for health care providers unless they are part of an integrated digital dictation workflow solution. An app should help mobile physicians capture their thoughts quickly and easily, so the information can be used to ensure prompt and accurate payment as well as enhance the quality of patient care.

— Peter W. Sorrento is vice president and director of sales for North America for Speech Processing Solutions and Philips voice technology.

— Tim Palmer is a key account manager for Speech Processing Solutions USA.