Embracing Speech Recognition

While all industries have their unique challenges and issues, there is at least one constant that always persists. That is the continuous search for ways to do more with less and to optimize performance.

Necessity is the mother of invention and when organizations are stretched, the opportunity for real innovation emerges. Businesses often realize this innovation in new technologies that provide a better, faster and more effective way of doing something. We have witnessed the evolution of voice recognition as one of those key technologies that can effectively be the source for “change” that we all seek.

In the 1950s and 1960s, we saw the first “speech recognition” attempts. These rudimentary systems could only understand digits and offered limited practical uses. By 1962, IBM showed the world a solution called the “Shoebox” machine that could actually understand 16 spoken words in English.

This was a major breakthrough. Early industries that identified speech recognition as a way to drive performance for their businesses included the Departments of Defense (DOD) and the manufacturing industry. As these entities evaluated their processes, they saw voice as a natural solution for automation and greater efficiencies that directly hit the bottom line.

Speech Recognition in Healthcare
Now it is time for healthcare to have a turn. Everyone agrees that healthcare has lagged behind in adopting information technology. Ten years ago, few hospitals even had an electronic health record (EHR) and most everything was done on paper. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), healthcare reform and Meaningful Use guidelines have rapidly transformed this reality and now most of the U.S. healthcare system has jumping on the IT bandwagon. But, while messy, disparate paper charts have been replaced by highly sophisticated medical record systems, clinicians are finding that a good bit of their time is gone. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation reports that nurses can spend on average upwards of 60-80% of their shift performing documentation and other non-patient care tasks. Physicians have been extremely vocal about the lost productivity realized since “going electronic.” The internet is full of physician bloggers who state that they now see fewer patients in a day than when on paper. The healthcare industry has spent more than $6 billion in the last 10 years on healthcare IT and it isn’t going away. So, what can healthcare learn from the Department of Defense and the manufacturing industry? How about that speech recognition can help – because it can.

A Second Chance

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Speech Recognition

How this fits into EHRs and MTs’ roles

While some stakeholders in healthcare have used speech recognition with great success for more than a decade, “voice” as a solution is in its infancy in healthcare. Why? Several reasons, including:

  1. The technology that makes speech recognition work has changed dramatically and will continue to evolve very rapidly. Earlier versions failed many people’s expectations and created a sentiment of “it sounds good but doesn’t work.” Many people haven’t given voice another chance.
  2. Traditional voice solutions have been created for more sedentary workers or individuals who have a workflow that includes long periods of sitting behind a desk and being able to “talk at the computer.” While these dictation solutions can serve many stakeholders well, for most healthcare workers, they just don’t work.
  3. Some stakeholders perceive the cost of voice to be high. Yes, a lot of technology can seem expensive but this paradigm is dismissive of what is gained. What would it mean to a hospital if a nurse could see more patients, forgo overtime or complete all of the patient education that was missed because she ran out of time? What would it mean for a physician if more patients could be seen and documentation was clean?

The bottom line is that speech recognition has gotten a lot better. And, the technology has evolved to beautifully accommodate nurses, therapists, physicians, social workers or any mobile healthcare worker who spends a lot of time documenting. For some solutions, the technology has actually gotten so smart that a nurse can literally document a head-to-toe assessment just by speaking without looking at a device or being anywhere near the computer and the data will automatically populate their EHR.

Healthcare can’t afford to dismiss what the DOD and manufacturing learned decades ago. It is time to look at speech recognition technology again and transform healthcare and the patient experience once again.

Maureen Ladouceur is vice president of Clinical Solutions for VoiceFirst by Honeywell.

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