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Replaced by voice dictation software, some wonder if technology is the best solution

OTTAWA, Ont. – After Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 4000 received layoff notices for about 50 medical transcriptionists at The Ottawa Hospital (TOH) earlier this year, the first wave of layoffs is set to take place for approximately half of those members on September 10 and 11. The medical transcriptionists have been replaced by voice dictation software that was implemented with little to no canvassing of staff.

CUPE 4000 members who have received the notices will have the opportunity to be reassigned within the hospital as per the terms of the collective agreement, but those at the bottom of the list may end up without work. Most of these medical transcriptionists have more than ten years of seniority with some going up to 20 years or more and they often work offsite – some residing as far as Montreal – which means this will impact their lives significantly.

“The layoff process has now begun which will mean changes for a lot of people – not just the medical transcriptionists, says CUPE 4000 Vice-President Rob Gauthier. This technological change was implemented by TOH without any canvassing of staff and will impact a lot of people, not just CUPE 4000 members. The Dragon Medial Recognition Software does not provide the same quality of service as the conventional method and has been proven to contain errors. There has got to be a better solution especially when it comes to patients’ health.”

An October 2011 American Journal of Roentgenology study showed that reports generated with automated speech recognition technology were eight times more likely to contain errors than with the conventional dictation transcription method.

Medical transcriptionists are not only responsible for transcribing but they are also responsible for reviewing and editing reports for accuracy – a job that will now have to be undertaken by the physicians.

“A concern here is that doctors will now have to do their own editing, which will cut in their interaction time with patients and also in their own personal time, added Gauthier. Some might hire help to edit, some may not do it at all and others will get really frustrated with the system which could impact quality of care.”

TOH has given physicians the option of paying user fees to keep their medical transcriptionist but should they choose to do so these workers would become on contract raising issues of contracting out for CUPE 4000. To make matters worse, that option is only offered to current physicians and all new staff are required to use the voice dictation software – and the same goes for interns.

“We want to raise this issue because this is happening to us but it is likely to occur again in the health sector. We have pages upon pages of examples of the kind of errors this system makes and it is only a matter of time before a fatal error occurs and a patient becomes victim of a cost-saving measure that was implemented too soon without proper consultation,” concluded Gauthier.

CUPE 4000 represents over 3,700 health care workers in various establishments of eastern Ontario, including The Ottawa Hospital.

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For information:

Rob Gauthier, CUPE 4000 Vice-President: (613) 722-0652

Paul Boileau, CUPE National Representative: (613) 237-0115

Marjorie Savoie, CUPE Communications: (613) 864-9924