Medical dictation today is often automated. Voice recognition software transcribes healthcare providers' comments in real time. While speech recognition software has streamlined operations for medical practices, it remains limited. When attention to detail and human ingenuity is needed, medical transcription services take dictation to the next level.
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Medical transcription services take audio dictated by medical professionals and provide a manuscript, which becomes part of a patient's medical record. Most services offer 24-hour turnaround, but many can expedite time-sensitive items. The accuracy rate for services versus voice recognition software is higher, which reduces the burden of proofreading on the medical practice's staff. Transcription services employ layers of quality assurance internally to ensure reports are error-free.
Choosing a medical transcription service means thoroughly vetting your potential partners to ensure they are trustworthy and consistent. The best services are fast, accurate, affordable and secure, but you can't gamble with sensitive patient data.
This guide will help you choose a medical transcription service that is the best for your practice or organization. Read our reviews and our best picks to help you as you start your buying journey.
Why Use a Medical Transcription Service?
Charting consumes a lot of time for busy doctors and medical professionals, but it's essential. Outsourcing transcription to a service frees up time and resources for physicians and staff, allowing them to care for patients, and it provides peace of mind that the information is accurate and secure. With a service, you don't have to worry about major errors or deal with slow turnaround, which can cost your practice or organization thousands of dollars in lost revenue.
Choosing a Medical Transcription Service
As you evaluate transcription services, consider compatibility, specifically compatibility with your electronic medical records (EHR) system. Many services offer EHR integration and free technical support so transferring and filing patient records is easy.
A quality service should offer flexible options for uploading dictation and receiving completed records. In our reviews, we've highlighted whether the service has a mobile app that can receive dictations as well as other ways (voice recorder, phone, etc.) the company can receive audio files. The following criteria also factored into our rankings.
The rates medical transcription services charge varies. Some charge by the minute, but this is considered less than satisfactory, because it can be expensive, and it's difficult to audit the quality of the completed work compared to what the service charged.
The standard pricing model used by many services is known as the 65 visible black character (VBC) line. This means that if you can see a character in black ink – including letters, numbers and punctuation – it counts toward a 65 VBC. Even if your transcribed document cuts off at 55 VBCs, you will be billed the 65 VBC rate. This is widely considered as the most transparent, auditable way to set rates.
In our research, we found that prices ranged from 7 to 14 cents per line on average. There were certain circumstances where pricing dipped as low as 4 cents per line, though this was predicated on the purchase of additional products or services. The best transcript services have a base rate of 7 or 8 cents per line, plus they offer other conveniences, such as entry into your practice's electronic medical record (EMR) system; this typically costs 2 or 3 cents per line.
The best services offer online editing and electronic signatures. Doctors can make changes and sign records without printing them out. As you evaluate services, be on the lookout for hidden fees.
Check whether the service charges you for faxing or creating customized templates. Ask, too, if the service offers free backup and storage so you have added protection against data loss.
Accuracy and Privacy
All of the transcription services we reviewed are HIPAA compliant.
HIPAA mandates that specific security features must be in place to prevent patients' medical information from being compromised. Secure sockets layer (SSL) encryption scrambles a patient's personal information, making it illegible to unauthorized recipients. HIPAA requires services to use at least 128-bit encryption, though some services use even stronger encryption.
The best dictation services have multiple levels of quality assurance checks in place to ensure documents are free from major errors. Ask whether the service has a dedicated certified medical transcriptionist. (We've attempted, where possible, to mention this in our reviews.) Every physician has their dictation style; an assigned transcriptionist grows accustomed to a doctor's technique, and coupled with their background and training, can review records to ensure accuracy.
Dictation Capture Methods
There are several ways to capture dictation and send it to a transcription service. Traditional phone-in dictation is still popular ‒ it's easy to access, and you don't have to buy any additional software or hardware. Another method involves using a digital voice recorder; doctors can dictate during their rounds or after appointments, but someone has to upload the recordings to a computer to send them.
Many services have mobile apps that are compatible with iOS and Android devices. You can use them whenever you are connected to the internet. Plus, with some services, you can dictate using the microphones on your tablet or laptop.
Most services offer varying levels of EHR integration. With some services, you may have to copy and paste transcribed text into a patient's electronic chart. Other services may offer methods where records are imported into the EHR.
All the services we reviewed offered a web-based account where clients can access finished transcriptions. You might consider services that fax or automatically print documents at specific machines in your office or in referring physicians' offices. (Check whether the service charges an additional fee for this.)
Tips for Choosing a Medical Transcription Service
Consider these five tips as you evaluate transcription services.
Consider your workflow.
There is no one-size-fits-all transcription service. Some companies will simply be a better fit for different practices, and that can be due to technical compatibility, turnaround time options, pricing or document delivery methods.
Look for a service that maintains certified medical transcriptionists who have demonstrable experience transcribing for your specialty. Also, look for a service that has experience working in your EHR system if you plan to have them transcribe clinical documentation that will go into your EHR/EMR system.
Weight whether voice recognition software isn't up to the task. If software can meet your needs, outsourcing transcription might be overkill.
Sign a detailed agreement.
When negotiating with a medical transcription service, the devil is in the details. Require them to sign a business agreement. Review the agreement closely and include the deliverables you expect. Also, make sure pricing is spelled out clearly so there are no surprises when the bill comes in. A detailed agreement protects you from hidden fees and malfeasance, and it holds the company accountable for the quality of its service.
Pay only for the services you need.
If all you need is basic medical transcription with next day delivery, don't be swayed by features (e.g., virtual scribes) you don't truly need. Those features are great options for some practices, but they might not be right for you. Before you talk with a sales representative, understand precisely what you need and what the company offers. Don't be swayed by flashy add-ons and lofty promises.
Ensure compatibility with your EHR system.
Many transcription services work with the major EHR systems, but verify compatibility before signing on. Many companies are willing to build new integrations with EHR systems they haven't worked with before, but that is not true of services. Moreover, try to find a company that has experience working with your practice's preferred software.
Check references from other healthcare organizations.
As with choosing any third-party service, including medical transcription services, ask your colleagues for references. If they've used a service they like before, that gives you a great starting point and a vote of confidence from a trusted source. Your industry has great insight into what works and what doesn't. Leverage that experience.
Related Healthcare IT Solutions and Medical Practice Services
Many medical practice software solutions and third-party services go hand in hand. For example, an electronic medical records (EMR) system and practice management software are closely related. A medical billing service might work within your practice management software, while a medical transcription service can help you create notes in your patients' charts, which are stored in your EMR system.
If you're looking for a full suite of healthcare IT solutions or additional medical practice services that could help improve the way your practice runs, take a look at our other medical practice review categories.
- Electronic medical records systems: An EMR system contains all the necessary clinical tools for a provider's encounter with their patients. In an EMR system, providers can review their schedules, access patient charts, e-prescribe medication, electronically order lab tests and access lab results. Some EMR systems also include tools to easily review patient histories and map trends in their health over time. An EMR system's ability to integrate seamlessly with practice management software determines how well the administrative and clinical departments work together. It can be an indispensable tool to healthcare providers, but choosing the right one is key. To learn more, see business.com's best picks page and reviews of the top EMR systems on the market today.
- Medical practice management software: Medical practice management software helps your front and back offices carry out their daily tasks. It generally includes appointment-setting software, insurance eligibility verification check features and medical billing tools. Medical practice management software also generally includes reporting tools for viewing financial information about your medical practice and charting performance over time. Integrations with EMR systems are essential for medical practice management software, as the two contain relevant information for both the clinical and administrative departments of any medical practice. To learn more, see business.com's best picks page and reviews of the top medical practice management software on the market today.
- Medical billing services: Medical billing services, also known as revenue cycle management (RCM) services, offer a way to outsource your billing department. Medical billing and coding can be complex and time-consuming processes. Maintaining an internal staff for billing and coding can become quite costly. Medical billing services generally work directly within your medical practice management software and perform coding and billing services, including follow-ups on outstanding claims and denial management. Many medical billing companies will also work to get providers at a new practice credentialed with the appropriate payers and provide additional reporting tools to contextualize a medical practice's cash flow. To learn more, see business.com's best picks page and reviews of the top medical billing services on the market today.
- Telemedicine software: Telemedicine software is a relatively new technology that allows healthcare providers to see patients remotely. Using video conference platforms specifically tailored to the needs of healthcare organizations and the privacy requirements laid out under HIPAA, telemedicine software reduces unnecessary office visits. Not only does it provide efficiencies for a medical practice, but it offers a convenience to patients, which is helpful in building a recurring clientele. To learn more, see business.com's best picks page and reviews of the top telemedicine software on the market today.
Frequently Asked Questions About Medical Transcription Services
How can a medical transcription service increase accuracy?
Medical transcription services employ experienced staff, senior transcriptionists, as well as certified medical transcriptionists, who proofread documents for accuracy. The industry-standard accuracy rate for a medical transcription service is 98%; check whether the service you're considering surpasses this number.
What is the quality assurance process for a medical transcription service?
Most transcription services employ a thorough quality assurance process. Generally, this includes at least three layers of support. First, the certified medical transcriptionist takes the audio and transcribes the document. Next, a senior transcriptionist proofreads the document, correcting any spelling, grammar and formatting issues. Finally, a clinician or a professional with medical experience reviews the document.
Not all medical transcription services employ this particular quality assurance process. Ask the transcription service you're considering about their quality assurance methods.
What are the turnaround times for transcribed documents?
Most offer a standard 24-hour turnaround time. For an added cost, most companies will expedite delivery of your transcribed documents. In some cases, you might pay less for a longer turnaround.
Every company is different. Some can deliver transcribed documents within 45 minutes, others only have a 24-hour window. Many doctors' offices don't require rapid turnaround, so a slower service might be more cost-effective. Hospitals, on the other hand, often require near-immediate turnaround.
How can a medical transcription service ensure HIPAA compliance?
Medical transcription services handle sensitive patient information when you deliver your audio to them for transcription. You have to know beyond a shadow of a doubt how they comply with HIPAA privacy requirements. If they mishandle data, your reputation is on the line.
In each of our reviews, we've specified the steps the service has put in place to ensure privacy and safety. However, as you contact companies, ask them what security measures they have in place and the training their staff undergoes to prevent data breaches. It is also wise to ask about how they physically secure their facility to prevent theft.
Your patients' data is your responsibility, so only entrust it to a third-party service that handles it with the same level of care that you would.