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A backlog of dictated voice files can create a whole host of problems for a medical facility. Incomplete medical records can lead to delays in billing, angry physicians and unnecessarily long hospital stays for patients. It can also mean overworked in house transcriptionists and additional costs for the facility when they are forced to enlist outside assistance to try and catch up.
So what causes backlogs, what practices are commonly employed to try and relieve them and how do you eliminate backlogs altogether from the transcription process?
A backlog in dealing with medical voice files can be caused by a number of different factors. One problem is the unpredictability of patient numbers. Voice files can be arriving in a steady trickle and then suddenly the floodgates will open and a torrent of files will arrive due to an unexpected peak in demand for medical services.
Another reason for backlogs is the failure of a facility to future proof its transcription department. As the workload gradually increases over time, rather than take on additional staff, the facility will work their in house transcriptionists harder and push their non-urgent workload further back in the queue.
And as a result of inadequate staffing, any holidays and illnesses by transcriptionists will further exacerbate the problem and increase the size of a backlog, with existing skeleton staff only able to maintain the status quo by dealing with those jobs at the front of the queue.
Backlogs can also be caused by physicians over-prioritising transcription jobs, labelling them as more urgent than they necessarily are, in order to have their jobs completed in a timely manner. Overuse of the priority button means older reports sit in the queue for longer, slowing things down further and compromising the overall efficiency of the system.
And the backlog itself creates further problems, causing stress to transcriptionists working longer hours to try and keep up, increasing absenteeism and ultimately leading to higher staff turnover.
Over the years, medical facilities have attempted various methods of addressing their backlog problems. The most popular solution is to outsource their overflow to one or more offsite transcription services. While this may seem like an obvious solution, unless they select the right providers, it can be a costly and time-consuming exercise that will only provide a temporary fix to the problem.
An outside provider may be unfamiliar with a facility’s quality standards and the result may be work that is under par, potentially compromising patient safety, particularly if the provider is working at an accelerated pace to try and clear the backlog in an agreed timeframe.
An outside provider may also not have access to all of the facility’s systems, account specifics, patient information, and physician dictation habits, all of which may result in inaccurate and unreliable work and longer turnaround times than would otherwise be the case.
And it is important to remember that if an outside transcription service is only called on to help in times of urgent overflow, they will face the same staffing and capacity problems as the facility when trying to deal with a large volume of work at short notice and the costs they incur as a result will be passed on to the facility.
The problem with only outsourcing in times of emergency is that once the emergency is dealt with, the facility returns to its regular in house transcription processes and the backlog begins to grow slowly again in the background over time.
An example of this is after a medical crisis or pandemic, where paitent numbers typically spike and management of logs might happen in a rushed, rather than timely, manner.
The key to eliminating backlogs altogether is to address the cause rather than simply alleviate the symptoms. Backlogs should be viewed as a normal part of the transcription process rather than a breakdown in the system and steps should be put in place to allow the facility to deal with them efficiently and cost effectively when they occur.
The best way to do this is to establish a long-term relationship with an outside transcription service. This would allow the facility to familiarise the provider with their processes and standards. Then, rather than being called upon to clear a backlog at short notice and with little access to the facility’s resources, they would be able to act as an extension of the in house transcription department, providing quality and timely work that quickly eliminates the backlog.
And over time, backlogs would be eliminated altogether as the facility’s transcription partner was able to analyse workflow patterns, identify areas where fluctuations occur and allocate adequate resources to absorb overflows before they had the chance to turn into backlogs. And the quality of their work would become equal to that of the facility’s own transcription department as their transcriptionists became familiar with the unique characteristics of the facility’s workload.
Rather than perpetual crisis management, a proactive solution would be in place and because transcription service providers charge by the line rather than by the hour, the facility would actually save money in the long-term, compared with paying a premium to outsource only in emergencies. Talk to SyberScribe today and see how we can help you take the hassle of out of record keeping.