Dr. H. Steven Block uses Dragon NaturallySpeaking Medical Edition, voice recognition software for medical professionals, to eliminate a very real business problem--medical transcription costs-- which six years ago, began topping the $1,000-a-month mark. Today, a doctor can easily spend three times that amount.
Very open about his high regard for the Dragon Medical VR product, Dr. Block had much to say about its place in his solo practice: “I purchased Dragon Medical from Eric Fishman’s company, Nuance, which is actually located in the same building as my practice, on the floor above me. Neurology is all about ‘nuance’, no pun intended. But ‘nuance’ is really the best word to describe the health effects of a neurological problem. It has been a major focus of my practice.”
“Very subtle neurological changes can have devastating health consequences. You have to be able to communicate those subtleties in order for a medical record to have any meaning.”
“I see some really sick patients. Using an on-the-spot note generation product like Dragon, instead of a transcriptionist, let’s me get back to the referring physician with a fast note, usually within 10 minutes of seeing the patient. That kind of speed in delivering a medical exam note with ‘nuance’ can mean a great deal to everyone involved. You see, I can’t type. I never learned how to type. My kids who grew up instant-messaging can type faster than I can speak. They don’t need Dragon. But for me, Dragon is a wonderful tool.”
Dr. Block, 49, is no stranger to high technology tools:
“There are only so many hours in the day,” he laughed, driving down the road, talking via wireless cell phone headset, “and I’m very detail-oriented. I couldn’t be without Dragon, quite frankly.” One word I did not hear from Dr. Block is the word “downtime”. It doesn’t seem to exist in his vocabulary.
Having traveled the long and winding upgrade path for both Dragon and laptop hardware, Dr. Block has watched and participated in the evolution of the product for six years. “Like a surfer looking for the perfect wave,” he joked. The improvement he’s seen in the most recent version of Dragon Medical—combined with a high-RAM laptop with at least 512MB—has boosted performance to an almost unbelievable 99.5% real time voice recognition accuracy level, according to his observations.
His advice to new users: “If you haven’t tried Dragon Medical in the last four years,” he said, “try it again, the way it is now, with the new speech engine. It uses mathematical models to analyze word groups. There is a learning curve, but the training is not that bad, consisting of you reading a 15 minute script into a microphone, then a little touch-up here and there.”
“Try a few charts each day, and sit down where it’s quiet, where you can relax and concentrate on your speaking habits. Tech support is great; they’ll help you, and be sure to read the help file “How to Speak to a Computer”—and the manual. Especially for often repeated phrases, the voice-actuated “macros” are great, a real time-saver. It’s well-worth the time you invest in learning how to use this tool.”
What are the pitfalls? “Mumbling,” says Dr. Block, “that’s the main problem. Doctors are used to dictating in a low, monotone mumble, as fast as they can. A person might be able to handle it by going back and listening to the recording again and again. But for voice recognition, doctors need to speak in a normal, conversational tone of voice, just like we are doing right now. Speak normally, and Dragon has no problem, it works very well. It’s really quite simple.”
He stated that using a handheld Sony digital voice recorder with removable memory stick allows him to dictate anywhere, anytime, then later, “feed” the sound file to Dragon, achieving about 98% voice recognition accuracy. (Please note: If you are considering making a recording for later voice recognition by Dragon, be sure and use 16-bit resolution .avi format, or Dragon won’t even try to “digest” it. It won’t bother with a recording of poor quality, because the end result would be useless.)
Although he is considering it, Dr. Block has not yet adopted a commercial EMR(Electronic Medical Records) software system for his medical records, mainly because of concerns about interoperability standards. (Coming soon to an EMR near you.)
However, by using Dragon Medical as his “front-end” for the creation of detailed paper medical records, email reports, and digital-FAX messages, Dr. Block not only uses computers, but has also created a highly personal and expressive way to “chart” a patient, unmatched in detail, depth, and the “human touch” by out-of-the-box EMR software.
Would EMR software developers do well to discuss with this doctor any design plans for a voice-controlled, voice-recognition-based EMR program? I think so. Will a “hands-free” EMR workstation which responds to voice commands--as does the entire Dragon program--ever be used to help maintain a “sterile field” in the medical environment of the future? It certainly worked well on the Starship Enterprise, didn’t it?