Dictating and transcribing correspondence tasks used to be an inefficient, occasionally stressful process for the lawyers and legal assistants at CGA Law Firm. Not anymore. Last year, the Pennsylvania firm traded in its unwieldy collection of Dictaphones, handheld recorders, microcassette tapes and transcription machines for a new digital dictation system.
Developed by BigHand, the solution brings the traditional dictation process into the 21st century. Today, CGA lawyers speak and record their notes and thoughts into their smartphones, and then upload the audio files directly to the firm’s data center. The result? The dictation files become immediately available for transcription and can be easily prioritized, tracked and shared.
“We haven’t done any formal analysis yet, but there’s no doubt that we’re already realizing increased workflow efficiencies,” says CGA President Jeffrey L. Rehmeyer II. “We are seeing time savings and enabling people to do more than they could do previously.”
A growing number of businesses and industries are waking up to the advantages of digital dictation. Not only is the technology more reliable than analog, but the sound quality is better, it’s less expensive to maintain, and it’s more secure.
CGA made the decision to invest in digital dictation for logistical and cost reasons, says Steven M. Carbaugh, the firm’s IT administrator. Voice recordings on tape were often scratchy or, worse, impossible to understand. They could also be mistakenly recorded over, broken or misplaced, and it was a challenge for lawyers to get dictation tapes into the hands of assistants in a timely manner.
“There were instances where attorneys had to go back and redictate, which led to lost productivity and fewer billable hours,” Carbaugh says. As the dictation industry started going digital, it became increasingly difficult to buy anything other than refurbished analog equipment that frequently broke down, he adds.
In making the transition from analog to digital, CGA opted for BigHand because, as an enterprise tool, it promised to do more than just automate the law firm’s old processes. All dictation files now reside on a dedicated virtual server in the firm’s data center, where they are backed up every hour and can be accessed anytime and from anywhere by CGA users. Once a dictation file hits the server, the BigHand system automatically sends an email to the appropriate legal assistant for further action.
“There’s a lot of peace of mind now, knowing that everything’s on the server and safe,” Carbaugh says.
Switching from manual dictation and transcription to voice recognition delivers an immediate return on investment and opens the door to other workflow efficiencies, says Judy Hanover, research director for IDC Health Insights. That’s because when organizations transition from analog to digital dictation, they gain voice recognition, natural language processing and analytics.
The healthcare industry is leading the way, Hanover says. “Downstream, once you’ve captured data as text from the dictation, you can use natural language processing and text analytics capabilities to pull more structured information out of unstructured text and apply it, in the case of healthcare, to evidence-based medicine and trying to improve outcomes while also controlling costs.”
The Tri-City Emergency Medical Group exemplifies Hanover’s point. Its physicians use Nuance Healthcare’s Dragon Medical to dictate all medical details and patient notes directly into the electronic health record system used by the emergency department at Tri-City Medical Center in Oceanside, Calif.
The switch to digital saves the practice $1 million a year in transcription costs, says Dr. Reid Conant, the chief medical information officer. It also lets doctors create documents for healthcare providers and patients in real time.
“Communication is critical in our business, but now we’ve done away with those information delays and potential for miscommunication that occurred because patient records and notes were still out being transcribed,” Conant says. “When I dictate, I can spell out the story in a much more detailed narrative that adds quality, which is important clinically, but it’s also important from a billing and coding perspective, as well as for medical-legal compliance.”
It takes time to add new capabilities to a process, however, and giving employees latitude in how they want to work is important to achieving maximum ROI from a digital dictation system. That’s been the case for Winthrop & Weinstine. Like CGA, the Minneapolis law firm has implemented a BigHand solution.
Craig Wilson, director of IT, notes that the solution, rolled out about four years ago, has made it possible for the firm’s employees to work at offices or at home — or from anywhere in the world.
“There’s complete access and transparency,” he says. “You don’t have to worry about time zones, or call around to see if someone has gotten the file or where it is in the process. An attorney can dictate something late at night, and before he arrives in the office, his smartphone will indicate that his legal assistant has taken care of it. It makes for an extremely efficient workflow.”
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach, however. Lawyers are given the option of using their smartphone or a dedicated digital recording device (or both), and a voice-recognition module is available for anyone who wants to use it, Wilson says.
“Our focus is squarely on customer service, and this allows us to get things done faster and much more efficiently while improving the service we provide to our clients,” he says. “It’s all good.”
CGA Law Firm leaders considered purchasing handheld recording devices but nixed the idea in favor of having employees use their smartphones for dictation instead. In making this choice, the IT team had to obtain a Secure Sockets Layer certificate and install it on the back-end server to ensure that the smartphones could securely transmit dictation files across the Internet.
“That was pretty much the only thing we had to do,” Carbaugh recalls. “BigHand took care of all the rest of the setup, so there really weren’t any issues or problems.”
The firm’s new digital dictation system has earned nothing but praise from its users.
“The recordings are so clear, which makes processing them much faster,” says Darlene Dubs, a CGA paralegal assistant. “It’s really made things a lot better for everyone — both the attorneys and the assistants.”