• January 1, 2012
  • By Leonard Klie Editor, Speech Technology and CRM magazines
  • FYI

New Speech Solutions Treat Smaller Practices

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Small medical practices, which make up about 40 percent of the United States healthcare profession, must follow the same federal guidelines as large healthcare organizations when it comes to the use of electronic health records (EHRs).

As part of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act—President Barack Obama's economic stimulus package—all U.S. healthcare providers, regardless of their size, will be required to convert paper-based patient files to EHRs by 2014. Financial incentives are available today for firms that make meaningful use of EHRs.

But making the change to digital records had been a burden for smaller healthcare providers that often lack the financial resources, personnel, and technical expertise to implement such systems.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that 292,000 office-based doctors in the United States (or 56 percent of the total number of doctors in private practices) have not yet converted to EHR software. Of the 220,000 office-based doctors in the United States who are using some sort of EHR system, only 4 percent are using fully functional versions.

"Healthcare information has been very hard to convert mainly because of the sheer number of practitioners around the globe diarizing in their hand," explains Derrick Gidden, president of Caduceus Software Systems Corp., a software provider for doctors in private practice. "They never needed to share or transmit this information before, thus the majority of them felt there wasn't a need to go digital."

But now that it is no longer an option, a new crop of dictation and transcription applications geared specifically toward smaller practices are eliminating some of the barriers to adopting EHRs. Many of these solutions allow doctors to create voice files using their iPhones or other mobile devices, eliminating the cost of additional dictation equipment, like digital recorders and microphones.

Scribe Healthcare Technologies, for example, recently launched a mobile dictation app, called Scribe Mobile, which is available for use on iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch devices. In the past year, hundreds of physicians have downloaded the app and enjoyed the flexibility it offers.

According to John Weiss, vice president of Scribe, "Feedback has been positive. Our customers love the ability to combine a phone and dictation device in one unit."

The developers of the Frisbee transcription workflow and dictation solution, me2me, recently released software with this capability. Called Frisbee Smart, the new app turns the iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch into a wireless digital dictation device. Medical practices can also integrate Frisbee Smart directly into their EHR systems.

"The iPhone has become a mobile business tool for many professionals who want to use it for dictation purposes in order to avoid carrying multiple devices and to cut costs," Peter Hauser, CEO of me2me, said in a statement.

According to Nuance Communications, this remote, mobile access to documentation solutions and patient information will be the centerpiece of medical practices for years to come. "Whether it's zipping between exam rooms or working remotely, mobile access to clinical information is invaluable for caregivers," says Janet Dillione, executive vice president and general manager of Nuance Healthcare. "Just as important is mobile collaboration for caregivers. With speech-driven mobility, clinicians can be completely untethered, yet still be fully plugged in to interact with and contribute to the care delivery process."

Nuance is helping small practices in other ways. The company recently released Dragon Medical Practice Edition, a version of its popular dictation software specifically for healthcare organizations with fewer than 25 practitioners. Company officials say Medical Practice, which allows clinicians to create medical notes directly into any EHR in real time, contains features that will be especially beneficial to physicians in small practices.

Dragon Medical Practice Edition "provides new features to assist physicians in capturing the full patient narrative by voice directly into any EHR," Carina Edwards, vice president of healthcare solutions marketing at Nuance, said in a statement. "As physicians in small practices face financial, legal, and technological barriers to EHR adoption, Dragon Medical Practice Edition is a cost-effective and reliable solution to help them achieve meaningful use."

Nuance officials say Dragon Medical is helping more than 20 percent of small practices make the transition to EHRs while saving as much as $10,000 per clinician per year in reduced medical transcription costs. The technology also helps decrease report turnaround time and improve the comprehensiveness of patient medical records, leading to more accurate reimbursement.

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