Dictation Healthcare Apps Poised for Aggressive Growth

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Driven by factors such as ease of use, financial compensation, and government mandates, speech recognition used for dictation in the healthcare arena is expected to climb dramatically, according to the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) report "Analytics Essentials of the U.S. Hospital IT Market."

The report found that speech recognition adoption in the healthcare arena has surged. In 2009, 22 percent of U.S. hospitals were using speech recognition technology. By June 2013, that number had more than doubled to 47 percent.

Growth has followed increased awareness of the value of clinical documentation for in-patient care. Coupled with that are financial drivers of speech recognition adoption, such as easier reimbursement and revenue for physicians, hospitals, and healthcare insurers.

"The trend now is the need to improve turnaround time of dictation, getting information into other clinicians' hands faster or to healthcare organizations," says Keith Belton, senior director of Dragon solutions marketing in the healthcare division at Nuance Communications, which together with M*Modal makes up the lion's share of the medical dictation market.

Belton also points to the ease of use and increasing accuracy of healthcare-specific documentation solutions today. "There are a number of studies that show that speech recognition is two to three times faster than typing," he says. "Doctors didn't go to medical school to type. Speech is the most natural way to integrate information into electronic health records."

Electronic health records (EHRs) serve as a repository for patient medical information, and healthcare providers that use them are eligible for government incentives if they can meet meaningful use standards. The program, which falls under the HITECH Act, stipulates that organizations that qualify for the Medicare EHR Incentive Program and achieve meaningful use by 2014 will be eligible for incentive payments, but those that haven't complied by 2015 will suffer penalties.

"Meaningful use objectives require EHRs, and EHR deployment is the number one priority for hospitals and clinicians," Belton says. "It's incumbent upon IT and health information management directors to give [physicians] their choice of how they want to document their care, which could include speech recognition."

Juergen Fritsch, chief scientist at M*Modal, agrees that EHRs are a driving force in healthcare speech recognition adoption.

"It's very tedious to enter information into EHRs," Fritsch says. "Drop-down menus and filling out templates slow physicians down. By introducing speech recognition in combination with EHR systems, you can overcome this and physicians can increase their time in caring for patients."

Fritsch says speech recognition helps capture the thought process in the words of a physician when recording information and makes it more meaningful for the next physician to read, rather than just copying and pasting information into an EHR.

Some healthcare fields have taken to speech recognition more quickly than others, but adoption is spreading.

"Speech recognition works very well where there is a controlled domain vocabulary," said John Hoyt, executive vice president of HIMSS, in an email. "Radiology is probably the best example; pathology is probably number two. Contrast that to internal medicine or the emergency department, [where there is] a much broader vocabulary, therefore it's much harder to get ninety-nine percent accuracy."

Jennifer Horowitz, senior director of research at HIMSS, says that larger hospitals (measured by bed count) are more likely to use speech technology than smaller hospitals—28.6 percent of hospitals with fewer than 26 beds use the technology compared to 79 percent of hospitals with 500 or more beds, based on numbers from June 2013. According to Horowitz, academic medical centers are most likely to use this technology, and among hospitals that have installed speech recognition technology, 72 percent report using it in radiology. The next largest area in which the technology is used is general medicine, at 32 percent.

"Basically, physicians love dictation [and] hate a million clicks that create the discrete data that they want for rules, alerts, and analytics, so speech recognition and natural language is the new future," Horowitz says.

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