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A matter of life and death: medical transcription and the public sector

At Global Voices, our specialist public sector transcription services provide multilingual translations and interpretations to public sector authorities. This includes the vital service offered by medical transcriptionists in hospitals and the public sector.

Our medical transcriptionists are often in high demand: The NHS accept that they have a “statutory and moral responsibility to patients” to provide medical interpreters and translators to all the communities they serve. And the good work of medical transcriptionists can make the difference between life and death.

What is medical transcription?

Transcription is the process of converting of spoken words into writing. There are many ways to transcribe something, which usually involve combining transcription with interpretation or translation methods.

Foreign language transcription is the process of converting sound files in the source language into a written document in that same source language.

Direct translation involves transcribing an audio file in the source language, and then translating that source language transcription into a written document in the target language.

Medical transcription specifically deals in the transcription of medical reports and patient histories from any number of audio recordings or files. Medical transcription can differ slightly in that it does not simply deal with transcribing each recorded word, but extracts the most valuable information pertaining to a patient’s care.

At Global Voices, our highly specialised public sector transcriptionists are also able to perform a transcription and/or translation of handwritten notes—no mean feat considering the reputation doctors and medical professionals have for poor handwriting.

What do medical transcriptionists do?

A medical transcriptionist is an expert transcriber with specialist knowledge of the medical industry. That means they are familiar with medical terminology, and those who perform transcriptions in translation are also familiar with these terms in different languages.

Medical and hospital transcriptionists can work both within hospitals, or perform medical transcriptions of documents that are outsourced. Their familiarity with the medical industry also helps them understand the standard formats used in hospital documentation and can ensure a medical transcription is as accurate as possible.

The different types of transcription services that medical transcriptionists can handle include: Physical examination reports; Progress reports; Pathology reports; Radiology reports; Autopsy reports; Labour and delivery reports and Consultation reports.

In many cases, the accurate transcription of medical reports such as these can be the difference between life and death. A proper transcription of a patient’s medical history, prior treatment and ongoing health conditions is of the utmost importance to enable proper medical treatment and care, both current and future.

Why are medical transcriptionists necessary?

Medical transcriptionists are necessary for much the same reasons as experienced medical interpreters. A study by the American College of Emergency Physicians in 2012 analysed interpreter errors that had clinical consequences, and found that the error rate was ten times higher for ad hoc interpreters, compared to professional medical interpreters with specialist training and experience.

People unfamiliar with medical terminology can easily confuse terms such as ‘known malignant’ and ‘nonmalignant’ and ‘urological’ instead of ‘neurological’. One particularly erroneous mistranslation is between the terms ‘hypo’ and ‘hyper’. ‘Hypo’ refers to a lack of something, while ‘hyper’ means an excess—hyperglycaemia refers to a condition where the patient has higher than normal sugar levels. Confusing the two terms can have fatal consequences if a condition is mistreated. Errors in medical transcription can similarly be a matter of life and death.

But it’s not just those lacking in specialist medical knowledge that can hinder amateur transcribers, but those whose transcription skills aren’t particularly up to scratch too. Many medical transcriptionists abroad, a Guardian article warns, “are believed to be medical students and qualified doctors, but not qualified medical secretaries expert at transcribing medical notes.”

The comprehensive package offered by expert medical transcriptionists who are familiar with both patients and medical professionals allows them to manage the problems associated with obscure and difficult to decipher notes and terminologies. Choosing a specialist medical transcription service can and does save lives.

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