Limits of Speech Recognition Technology

Medical language is very complex with a huge number of eponyms and many similar-sounding words with completely different contexts.  Over the past few years most of the largest hospitals in the country have transitioned from having their documents transcribed to having them edited using speech recognition systems.  Medical transcriptionists have gone from typing every word they hear in a patient’s record to editing imported speech documents, and the industry standard is to pay the MT half the rate for speech documents as for non-speech (assuming we should be able to produce twice as much).  In theory over time a good speech system learns the correct terms as they are edited by the MT and/or the physician.  There will always be a portion of people’s speech that will not transfer well to speech recognition, so some reports in any hospital need to be fully transcribed.

The system I work with needs to have a word spelled correctly 20 sequential times for it to be remembered in speech, and in a network pool of hundreds of MTs, all it takes is one person being less certain of how something is spelled to create an ongoing error that needs to be edited again and again.  Kind of like the telephone game.

Some days what the speech software interprets when it encounters a new term is entertaining and proves how important editors will be for a good long time to come even as speech software improves.  Job security.  Here’s my example from today:  “Takotsubo cardiomyopathy” was the correct term, and here’s what the speech system determined correct:  “take a so boob.”

And just for your enlightenment, I’ve encountered this term before but never looked it up until today.  After all, I only get paid for what I produce, not what I research.  I learned it is not named after a Japanese person as I had assumed.  Instead, “tako-tsubo” is the term for ‘octopus traps’ which in Japan are shaped like the left ventricle of the heart when it is enlarged with this rare stress-induced condition.  So now you’ll have a leg up on your next round of medical language trivia at the bar.  : )


About Erin W

A sensitive plant, bamboo strong.
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