Since moving to electronic medical records, doctors spend hours daily typing clinical notes. For many providers, the charting demands of EMRs have been a cause of burnout. Some physicians have responded by turning to medical dictation software and other workflow solutions that reduce the need to type. If you’re considering typing vs. dictation for clinical documentation, the question is, “Which is faster?”

Whether you type or dictate patient notes, it is ultimately a matter of minutes. There are 24 hours in a day, and the average primary care physician spends 1.5 of those finishing paperwork after clinical hours. Doctors interested in a healthy work-life balance must use their EMR as efficiently and accurately as possible.

So which is faster – typing or dictation? Just as importantly, which is more accurate? Here is a summary of the numbers based on existing research and estimates.

Comparing speeds of dictation vs. typing

Short answer: Dictation is faster.

Long answer: Dictation speeds vary depending on the type of dictation

It used to be most common for physicians to use medical transcription. In this model, the physician records the dictated note, sends it to a third-party transcription service, and receives the dictation in several hours or several days. Doctors still use medical transcription, but today a computer transcribes the recording before a professional transcriptionist reviews it. 

Increasingly, doctors are moving to automated speech-to-text for medical dictation, which instantly transcribes spoken words using speech-recognition software. Using an app on their smartphone or computer, doctors can dictate into free-text fields of the EMR and edit the transcription before saving.

In both cases, dictation is faster than typing.

Speech recognition software can transcribe over 150 words per minute (WPM), while the average doctor types around 30 WPM. Professional transcriptionists type around 50-80 WPM, much faster than physicians.

Stanford researchers studying typing versus dictation found that speech recognition was nearly three times faster while producing fewer errors.

We did the math using conservative estimates and found the average U.S. physician could reduce documentation time by about seven hours per week by switching from typing to dictation.

Separately, our review of published research found that switching from typing to medical speech-to-text dictation would increase the average physician’s overall productivity by 5.76%. Using that estimate, an orthopedics sub-specialist compensated at $71.00 per RVU could earn an additional $31,899 yearly.

Our review of published research found that switching from typing to medical speech-to-text dictation would increase the average physician’s overall productivity by 5.76%.

The bottom line is that you speak much faster than you type, and potential efficiency gains are substantial. 

As with typing, getting a dictation perfect the first time requires speaking skills that you develop over time. However, a small amount of effort to refine a new dictation workflow can eliminate days of typing over a year.

What about accuracy?

Short answer: It depends on your workflow, but dictation can be as accurate as a carefully typed clinical note.

Long answer: Every physician prioritizes accurate clinical notes. While doctors who dictate increasingly opt for fully-automated speech-to-text workflow, this isn’t universal. Some providers still send dictations to a third-party service where a professional transcriptionist edits and reviews their dictations.

Unfortunately, researchers have found high average error rates using this type of off-site medical transcription. This may be because it took physicians in the study an average of four days to review and sign a dictated clinical document that they sent away for transcription. The lag time created by third-party transcription services makes room for errors that are often clinically significant.

While voice recognition software has improved immensely recently, dictation errors are inevitable. Existing research underscores the importance of manually reviewing your notes to ensure accuracy.

By using speech-to-text software for instant medical dictation on their mobile device or computer, physicians can largely avoid the problem of inaccuracy. With speech-to-text software, physicians dictate the clinical note, and their words appear instantly on the screen. They can quickly detect errors, make edits, and immediately save the accurate note in the EMR.

Using the latest speech recognition software for instant dictation, physicians can ensure a clinical note that is 100% accurate, just as it would be with careful typing.

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