St. Mary’s e-records eliminate transcribers

In an effort to comply with new demands for electronic medical records, St. Mary’s Hospital is laying off its contracted transcriptionists.

None of the hospital’s dozen transcriptionists on staff will be affected by the move slated for around April 1.

Rather, the change will affect 15 to 30 mostly local, contracted transcriptionists who transcribe medical records for the hospital.

St. Mary’s and some other hospitals in the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth Health System temporarily will contract with Amphion Medical Solutions for the work, according to Elaine Barnett, informatics manager at the hospital.

St. Mary’s is installing its own, new, medical dictation and transcription service, and all of those services eventually will be done in house, Barnett said.

“This is the trend in medical transcription” for hospitals nationwide, she said. “This is changing transcriptionists to be more like editors than keyboardists.”

Transcriptionists listen to recordings of physicians and physicians’ assistants and type medical records. Voice- recording software, in which physicians speak into a microphone and the words are displayed on a screen, is eliminating the need for transcriptionists to type out the words.

At St. Mary’s Hospital and at other health care facilities around the Grand Valley, transcribed documents are entered into Quality Health Network, a regional electronic database for use by health care providers.

Barnett said St. Mary’s and its network are looking toward new requirements and incentives to upgrade to electronic medical records. Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, physicians can be reimbursed $44,000 to $64,000 over five years for implementing certified electronic medical records by the end of 2011. Further, physicians, hospitals or medical practices that have not instated electronic medical records by 2014 will have Medicare reimbursement rates reduced by up to 3 percent the next year.

Barnett said the hospital encouraged contract transcriptionists to seek work through Amphion or seek other positions at the hospital.

Local medical transcriptionists are attuned to terminology, and their work often focuses on transcribing for a particular department, said Jessica Schmalz, who will be losing her transcriptionist contract work with the hospital. That familiarity with local physicians and departments helps transcriptionists spot errors.

Schmalz also is concerned that outsourcing the information to transcriptionists unfamiliar with local doctors and specific departments could create potential for mistakes and decrease quality of health care. Even if transcriptionists gain employment with Amphion, their work could be assigned to other facilities the company contracts with, not necessarily to local hospitals, she said.

Schmalz has 13 years of experience transcribing and works on her own schedule, allowing her flexibility in raising her children. She was trained in a 12-month program and earned certification through an online course. Schmalz is paid per line.

She said she contacted Amphion but was discouraged to learn she would be making half as much. She may also have to work a shift that doesn’t work with raising her family.

“I love this line of work,” she said. “I feel like I would be a benefit to any doctor’s office. I’m still looking to see what options are out there.”

Demands of such jobs may change to fit into a 24-hour work cycle, Barnett said. Like other kinds of information that must be produced quickly, medical records are no longer the exception, she said.

Emergency room doctors feel it’s important to get transcribed information onto Quality Health Network quickly because patients may go on to visit other medical providers, she said.

“If there’s a mom in the ER at night with her child, the pediatrician wants to see that report in the morning,” Barnett said.


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