Turnaround time in medical transcription services

Transcription Turnaround Time


Together with our partners, the LMC Buying Groups, we discuss what to look for in terms of turnaround time whilst outsourcing medical transcription.

What is ‘turnaround time’?

The phrase ‘turnaround time’ is quite ambiguous and can vary wildly in what it means depending on the task. To a GP practice, it may mean the time it takes for clinical correspondence to be dictated, typed, checked, posted and delivered to its recipient. To a typing (transcription) company, it usually means the time taken to receive a dictation, for it to be allocated to a typist and be typed, before going through a quality check stage and then returned to the practice.

Whatever the case, you always want the quickest turnaround time and for extremely urgent and sensitive correspondence to be processed as quickly as possible, to ensure patients are diagnosed and treated in a timely manner.

There are a few main points that need to be considered when understanding turnaround times:

  • Current typing pool practice;
  • Practice/NHS guidelines; and
  • Turnaround time hidden costs.

Internal resources

Most surgeries operate with an internal admin team who have numerous responsibilities within their job roles, typing being a part of this role. Usually a GP will dictate a letter or note for the secretaries to action and traditionally the tape (either analogue or digital) will then be handed over to the secretaries or forwarded to a digital typing pool for the secretaries to access.

Ideally these letters are actioned immediately, however during busy periods such as holiday periods or flu season typing of day-to-day correspondence can take a back seat.  It doesn’t take long for a backlog to arise which can have an obvious knock-on effect on patient care, with potentially urgent referral letters waiting to be issued.

NHS guidelines

The current NHS Digital guideline is to produce the letter within 10 days of the patient’s attendance, so 10 days is the absolute maximum; however, individual practice, federation, trust or hospital’s own in-house standards vary wildly, with most secondary care institutes being far more governed by this NHS guideline (mainly due to increased pressures on support staff).

Improving the turnaround time of correspondence, and ensuring you’re doing it in a safe way can be a good thing, but what about qualitative benefits of ensuring a good turnaround time?

When a CQC assessment is carried out, having the back office efficiency benefits of an outsourced transcription service allows a practice to improve the main five points of a CQC assessment:

1. Safe?

Ensuring that patient data is secure, and correspondence is typed, and checked numerous times before being sent out to its destination ensures accuracy.

2. Effective?

Quality, accurate and fast turnaround times reduce time spent typing in-house and helping staff achieve targets and goals for the other roles of their job.

3. Caring?

Less typing means more time for the patients, helping to treat them with compassion, kindness, dignity and respect.

4. Responsive?

Not having a backlog of digital dictation (or analogue) will ensure that people don’t ‘slip through the cracks’ and ensuring that all letters are typed as soon as the dictation is available, will mean that the needs of the patient are being met.

5. Are they well-led?

Practice managers chasing referral letters and urgent correspondence becomes a thing of the past when they have an agreed turnaround time with an outsourced transcription service allowing them to devote more time to staff safeguarding and ensuring high quality care.

Turnaround time hidden costs

Standard turnaround times can vary from company to company.  Some offer a standard turnaround on all general typing (one voice – doctor dictating, nurse dictating etc.). Others offer varying price structures depending on the turnaround time offered, for instance, you can pay less money to have a longer waiting period on the turnaround.

For those that offer a standard turnaround time, ensure that they have the capacity to process urgent files if requested. Most outsourced transcription providers who offer a standard one or two business day turnaround will be able to process urgent files within a matter of minutes to hours depending on urgency.  Some may charge extra; others may offer this as a free service on a fair use policy. Also, ensure that they can cope with backlogs for those unforeseen circumstances (no maximum number of files per day).

Those with standard turnaround times for their transcription service will actually be the maximum it takes for the completed document to be returned to you, often it will be much less than stated and mainly depending on the difficulty of the dictation, defined by the following points:

  • Audio quality (is there interference/background noise?);
  • Numbers of speakers (is it one person speaking or an MDT meeting?);
  • Heavy accents (Is English their first language?);
  • Formatting (standard template or is the letterhead complicated?).

What next?

It’s important to identify what your practice needs. Do your staff need more time to perform their core responsibilities, or do you become backlogged during the busy periods? Do you need a permanent member of staff or an outsourced transcription solution for the peaks and troughs of document creation? Do you want a one-business day turnaround, and do you need urgent files typing?

All of the above can seem daunting; however, feel free to peruse our page regarding medical transcription.  Alternatively contact us or our partners, The LMC Buying Groups, and we can help you navigate the minefield that is outsourcing medical transcription.

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