This article covers everything you need to know about medical speech recognition software. We’ll tell you what it is, how it works, and what to look for when choosing a medical dictation solution.

What is speech recognition software?

Speech recognition software is any computer application that translates your speech into text. That’s why speech recognition is often called “automatic speech recognition (ASR)” or “speech-to-text.” 

You speak, and your smartphone or computer software instantly converts your words to text. 

In medicine, speech recognition software is a modern alternative to using a transcriptionist to help with documentation. In the past, you might have hired a scribe to sit in on patient visits and take notes. Or maybe you sent dictations off-site to a medical stenographer who transcribed them.

Today, many doctors skip transcriptionists and simply speak their dictations into a software application linked to the EHR. Their words appear instantly on the screen, where they can check them for errors before saving the note.

How does speech recognition work?

You don’t need to understand how speech recognition technology works to experience the benefits of speech-to-text medical dictation. But if you’re curious, most speech recognition software follows four steps to convert speech into text:

  1. An analog-to-digital converter translates sound waves from your voice into digital data a computer can understand.
  2. The computer breaks down the data into smaller sound bites and matches these to phonemes in the given language. 
  3. The software analyzes the string of phonemes from your dictation and matches them with its database of known words, phrases, and sentences.
  4. The computer infers what you said and uses that information to produce text or perform a command. 

Medical speech recognition software uses this same process but also requires a database of language specific to medicine. For example, if you say “Atorvastatin,” the software you’re using must recognize that as a word to look for when matching your speech with its vocabulary database.

Benefits of medical speech recognition software

Many doctors use speech recognition software for clinical notes to reduce the need to type. Typing is slow – about 30 words per minute (WPM) for most physicians – and clinicians are spending more time than ever on charting and paperwork. 

Dictating using medical speech recognition software is much faster than typing, and the results are similarly accurate. Speech recognition software can transcribe over 150 WPM, which is the average conversation rate for English speakers in the United States. 

In short, dictation is faster than typing, and doctors are short on time.

But, using medical speech recognition software has other benefits. Some providers say it improves the quality of their clinical notes, and studies have shown benefits for clinicians’ satisfaction. By dictating in the presence of your patients, you can also make medical speech-to-text an effective patient engagement strategy

Considerations when choosing a medical speech recognition software

You probably noticed many different software options if you’re considering using speech-to-text for clinical documentation.

What features should you prioritize in medical speech recognition software? Here are five things to look for.

1. Easy setup

First, you want software that’s easy and intuitive to start using, 

Any change to your documentation workflow will require an upfront investment of time and energy. But plenty of medical dictation solutions with great user interfaces will feel familiar and intuitive from the start. 

Look for software that fits your needs but doesn’t have too many extra functions or options. If the company that makes the application recommends you attend a training session to get started, this might be a red flag.

2. Designed for doctors

Using free speech recognition software that isn’t specifically for medicine might feel tempting, but we don’t advise it. Medical software has two significant benefits: security and functionality. 

Security is paramount. Any software that handles protected health information must be HIPAA compliant, so this should be your litmus test for bringing any app into your practice. 

Also, look for speech-to-text options designed by doctors for doctors. This software will understand medical terminology and be more likely to integrate seamlessly with your EHR. Ideally, your speech recognition software will function anywhere you type: in your EHR, a Word document, and any web interface. 

3. Works on all of your computers

Many physicians use a PC at work and a Mac at home. Unfortunately, many medical dictation apps don’t work on Macs. If you ever finish clinical notes at home – most family physicians do – you’ll need speech recognition software that works on all your computers. 

Look for medical speech-to-text software that works on Mac and PC and can be used on unlimited devices. 

Suppose you move between workstations throughout the day or between hospitals throughout the week. In that case, you want your medical dictation workflow to travel with you, including your known settings, voice commands, and functionality. 

4. Mobile

Today, most doctors want medical speech-to-text software that works on their smartphones and tablets in addition to their computers. Mobile applications give your clinical documentation workflow more flexibility and allow you to dictate anywhere. 

For example, what if you’re away from the computer but have a moment to catch up on clinical notes? Choose software that includes a “memos” feature. Dictation memos let you record your dictation on your smartphone and quickly save it to the patient chart when you’re back at the computer. 

Mobile, cloud-based dictation also means you can use your smartphone as a microphone for instant medical dictation on any computer. That’s right – your most powerful speech-recognition microphone is already in your pocket. Dictaphones are a thing of the past. 

5. Great support

Any new technology will raise questions: How do I most efficiently use my software on a new computer? What are the essential voice commands to make my dictation process more efficient?

You’ll want a speech recognition technology with great support options. Before choosing a software, read customer reviews and talk to your colleagues about their experience with the software.

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