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The great dictation? Digital transcription devices in practice

1 June 2006

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Peter Crouch
MB BS(T)GP Section 12 Approved
GP and Forensic Medical Examiner

Peter is managing partner at Taw Hill Medical Practice in Swindon, Wiltshire, and divides his time between general practice, aesthetic and forensic medicine. The practice is no stranger to modern premises and technology, and hosts an annual technology showcase for the NHS, believing that technology has to be useful and provide a regular return that exceeds the time and cost invested in the purchase and implementation of any new system

Most GPs are familiar with using handheld tape dictaphones. I’m sure there are others who, like me, have accumulated many (unintentional) hours of fun playing “hunt the clean tape” in predigital times. And many’s the time I finished recording something only to discover that there must have been “something else” on the tape, but by the time I realised I had accidentally recorded over it.

But now we have moved over to digital transcription, which has transformed how we handle clinical and business dictation. These days I use a digital dictaphone to record all of my clinical, forensic, medicolegal and business dictation.

Our practice secretary says that the noise-cancelling technology on our digital dictaphones means that the recording clarity is far superior compared with our old tape system. Although these operate in a similar manner to traditional Dictaphones (with sliding controls, fast forward, rewind, record and play), they differ from tape-based machines in that you can rewind and insert speech if you want to. I forget that I’m using a digital dictaphone as it’s so similar in operation.

Digital transcription really comes into its own when you use the ability of digital systems to send files over a network to another workstation for transcription without the need to hand deliver the tape. This renders the colocation of the person doing the transcription far less critical and means a more flexible approach can be adopted. It could be onsite or offsite, using one secretarial pool shared by a main and branch surgery, or an external medical transcription provider.

As I dock my dictaphone back into its desktop charging cradle, any recorded dictation is momentarily on its way to the secretary. This means letters are worked on shortly after being recorded. The secretaries say that they prefer getting work in smaller, regular instalments rather than having to wait for the full tape to arrive.

A handy button on the dictaphone allows you to switch between different “electronic folders”; this means that you can differentiate between urgent and routine letters easily, allowing the secretaries to identify and fast-track urgent/clinical letters ahead of business matters, for example. The ability to identify and queue urgent letters separately for priority transcription helps tremendously.

My advice if you are looking to move over to digital transcription?
Choose a robust model that will survive the occasional plunge over the edge of a desk, and a system that provides a “manager overview” of the transcription work queues – this is an electronic summary of who sent what to whom, and when and how fast transcription is being done. This can be very useful if there are “performance perception issues” within a team.

If you are going to send files over the network, don’t initially invest in extra high-capacity memory cards until you know you need them, as letters will go off in small batches and capacity isn’t an issue.