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Is Voice Recognition Feasible with EHR Systems?

voice recognition waves

Voice recognition is all the rage in technology products these days. It started with our phones answering questions and now we have a plethora of devices waiting for our spoken commands. Everything from your TV to your car has some sort of voice recognition system built into it. Tech companies are pitching it as the perfect solution for the cumbersome task of data entry. Why type or click buttons when you can tell your device what you want to do?

Voice Recognition in EHR Systems

With all the hype surrounding voice recognition, no doubt some of us have already started thinking about using it in EHR systems. Quite a few vendors are working towards including voice recognition as one of the options for dentists entering data into patient files. But the question still remains: Is voice recognition ready for EHR software?

Answering this question is not easy. Innovation is quite rapid in the world of technology and something that you thought was impossible might very well become reality in a few years. Let’s look at this from two different perspectives. One approach is to view it in terms of technical feasibility. Can voice recognition replace typing as the default method for EHR data entry?

The answer to this is a qualified yes but it’s not there yet. Voice recognition systems in general are still not at the stage where anyone can use them without issues. Most of such software products still cannot understand different accents, changes in voice due to illness etc. They have difficulty in listening to users when there is noise in the room and misinterpret similar sounding words.

On top of this, we have the specialized and unique terminology of the dental profession to deal with. Today’s voice recognition systems will almost certainly run into problems with medical terms, acronyms, the complex names of drugs etc. Combine this with the variety of accents it needs to interpret and no wonder voice recognition is so hard! But these issues are just technical problems. Given the pace of new developments in technology, we can assume that they will be solved sooner or later.

Is Voice Recognition Useful in EHRs?

The second – and perhaps more pertinent – approach is to ask if voice recognition is actually desirable in an EHR. There are pros and cons to using voice instead of typing in your practice. When it works, voice recognition is much faster than typing. This is especially true if you or one of your staff is not very familiar with computers. Unless you’re an experienced touch typist, it’s likely that the voice recognition system will type your spoken words faster than you can.

Another aspect to consider is that sitting in front of a computer and typing for long hours can lead to back, neck and wrist problems down the road. Supplementing at least some of the typing with voice recognition systems can give your body a much needed break.

However, voice recognition is not always helpful. For instance, typing is more discreet than saying things out loud in front of a patient. But you can’t always save your notes for later, sometimes you need to enter those notes into the computer now. In some circumstances, there might be too much noise in your environment for the system to work correctly. You might prefer to type instead of yelling at your computer!

As we can see, it may take a while before voice recognition systems become a staple in EHR software. Even then, voice recognition will not be the only method of data entry. But the day is not far away when you will be able to talk to your computer and have it fill out patient files for you!