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Turnaround Time in Medical Transcription Services

Here are some of the things you should look for in terms of turnaround time whilst outsourcing your medical transcription needs. 

What is ‘turnaround time’?

The phrase ‘turnaround time’ is fairly ambiguous and can vary wildly in what it means depending on the task. To a GP practice, it may mean the time it takes for clinical correspondence to be dictated, typed, checked, posted and delivered to its recipient. To a transcription services company, it usually means the time taken to receive a dictation, for it to be allocated to a typist and be typed, before going through a quality check stage and then returned to the practice.

Here are a few main points that need to be considered when understanding turnaround times:

  • Current typing pool practice

  • Practice/NHS guidelines

  • Turnaround time hidden costs

Internal Resources

Most GP surgeries operate with an internal admin team who have numerous responsibilities within their job roles, typing being a part of this role. Usually, a GP will dictate a letter or note for the secretaries to action and traditionally the tape (either analogue or digital) will then be handed over to the secretaries or forwarded to a digital typing pool for the secretaries to access.

Ideally, these letters are actioned immediately, however during busy periods such as the holiday or flu season, the typing of day-to-day correspondence can take a back seat.  It doesn’t take long for a backlog to arise which can have an obvious knock-on effect on patient care, with potentially urgent referral letters waiting to be issued.

NHS Guidelines

The current NHS Digital guideline is to produce the letter within 10 days of the patient’s attendance, so 10 days is the absolute maximum; however, individual practice, federation, trust or hospital’s own in-house standards vary wildly, with most secondary care institutes being far more governed by this NHS guideline. 

Hidden Costs

Standard turnaround times can vary greatly from company to company.  Some offer a standard turnaround on all general typing (one voice – doctor dictating, nurse dictating etc.). Others offer varying price structures depending on the turnaround time offered, for instance, you can pay less money to have a longer waiting period on the turnaround.

For those that offer a standard turnaround time, ensure that they have the capacity to process urgent files if requested. Most outsourced transcription providers who offer a standard one or two business day turnaround will be able to process urgent files within a matter of minutes to hours depending on urgency.  Some may charge extra; others may offer this as a free service on a fair use policy. Also, ensure that they can cope with backlogs for those unforeseen circumstances (no maximum number of files per day).

Those with standard turnaround times for their transcription service will actually be the maximum it takes for the completed document to be returned to you, often it will be much less than stated and mainly depending on the difficulty of the dictation, defined by the following points:

  • Audio quality (is there interference/background noise?)

  • Numbers of speakers (is it one person speaking or an MDT meeting?)

  • Heavy accents (Is English their first language?)

  • Formatting (standard template or is the letterhead complicated?)


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