Dictation system intended to cut administration costs has some patients waiting up to 60 days for important letters.

Gary Flood, Contributor

March 20, 2013

3 Min Read

A £1.9 million ($2.9 million) project to introduce a dictation system in an English hospital network has run into serious problems.

Patient complaints about the speech recognition system, which was introduced at five hospitals in the West Yorkshire city of Leeds to shave administration costs, have stopped the system's rollout in its tracks.

First reported in the Yorkshire Evening Post, an email management sent to staff apologized for "performance problems" with the new technology: "We would like to offer our sincere apologies that you have been impacted in this way. It was clearly never our intention the introduction of a new software product would be anything other than beneficial in our journey towards the increased use of technology to support high quality patient care."

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Leeds Teaching Hospitals also issued the following statement: "Like many other hospitals we believe that where we can maximize the use of technology to improve our processes, improve patient administration and improve efficiency, then we have a duty to do so… Introducing new systems into an already complex technological environment inevitably results in a few problems. Where this causes particular difficulty it is right to pause so we can review the best way to resolve those difficulties."

However, the statement implies that while technology has been part of the problem, there also have been other complicating factors. "In dermatology, any problems with the technology have been compounded by local issues and we acknowledge this has resulted in delays, which we regret. We are taking actions to address the situation in this specialty and expect to resolve it shortly."

The reference to dermatology is in response to reported complaints by a patient group called the Leeds Dermatology Patient Panel. According to the Yorkshire Post, the Panel alerted local NHS managers of "significant concerns" in delays to letters that were sent after the new system was introduced. The average delay now reportedly stands at 60 days. Panel chair Victor Boughton described it as "a critical problem, very much affecting patient care and safety and putting patients at risk."

The dictation system was rolled out last October to help reduce administrative needs. The plan called to eliminate the equivalent of 90 of 370 full-time jobs over two years by not replacing departing staff.

A media spokesperson for the Trust was unable to supply the name of the supplier of the speech recognition system.

Comprising five Leeds hospitals, the Leeds Teaching Hospital NHS Trust is one of the biggest national Health System structures in the country.

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