A plan to privatize medical transcription services could save the Fraser Health and other Lower Mainland health authorities more than $3 million annually, but the Hospital Employees’ Union claims the plan could put patient confidentiality and the accuracy of medical records at risk.
Currently, more than 130 medical transcriptionists in the Lower Mainland transcribe doctors’ voice-recorded notes of surgical procedures, consultations, patient histories, laboratory and diagnostic test results, and various reports, and enter them into patients’ medical records.
The 35 hospitals in the Lower Mainland, including Ridge Meadows Hospital in Maple Ridge, produce 4.5 million minutes of dictated notes per year.
Currently, health authorities in the Lower Mainland use a number of duplicate systems for transcribing doctor’s verbal medical notes.
Fraser Health, Providence Health Care, Provincial Health Services Authority, and Vancouver Coastal Health are jointly seeking to contract those services out to a single vendor. Currently, there are different computer systems, standards and processes for delivering transcription services at each of the four health organizations.
By enlisting a single private firm to transcribe the notes, Fraser Health and its partner health authorities will be able to access the best technology, and save money, says Yoel Robens-Paradise, Providence Health Care’s executive director for health information management in the Lower Mainland.
“This is a significant opportunity to find savings and redirect those funds into health care delivery,” he said. “We need to take advantage of the technology and get the most for our money.”
The move is the latest step to consolidate non-clinical and clinical-support services in the Lower Mainland, resulting in close to $55 million in annual savings so far.
Under the plan, medical data would never leave Canada, Robens-Paradise notes. Outsourced medical transcriptionists must reside and perform their work in Canada, and all data must be stored in a secure, controlled-access data center located in Canada. There would also be strict standards for speed and accuracy as part of the contract.
Currently, more than 40 per cent of transcription services are already outsourced by Fraser Health.
However, HEU secretary-business manager Bonnie Pearson says transferring control over the accuracy and confidentiality of sensitive patient records to a private contractor could put those records at risk.
“Health authorities have a responsibility to both patients and physicians to maintain close control over highly sensitive patient records,” says Pearson. “This ill-thought out move by health employers comes with an unacceptably high degree of risk.”
According to Pearson, in-house medical transcriptionists have already raised red flags about the quality of the outsourced reports they receive to edit and correct.
“Protecting the integrity of confidential patient records should be health employers’ first priority,” says Pearson. “Health employers should be focused on finding solutions that don’t involve privatizing patient records and putting this information at risk. Government should put the brakes on this ill-considered move.”
However, many of people currently contracted out to perform transcription services are the same employees who work in-house, and are picking up extra work on the side, notes Robens-Paradise.
“There’s no difference in the quality of their work,” he said.
The proposal to outsource follows unsuccessful negotiations with the HEU and other unions to find an alternative model for a more cost-effective delivery of transcription services, says Robens-Paradise.