In amongst the furore currently surrounding the plans for reforming the NHS, there’s no question that health IT providers must continue to deliver products that are constantly dependable – one hundred per cent of the time – because, irrespective of the changes the NHS has to go through to become leaner and more efficient at the end of the chain is the patient.

One key challenge faced by healthcare organisations is how they document, share and utilise clinical information, so that they can provide a seamless, efficient and rapid service to the patient. A common vision is for every hospital to have a sophisticated speech infrastructure, which will help realize this vision.

The personal touch

Of course, delivering optimal patient care is the objective of all healthcare organisations. One of the drivers behind this objective is the fact that healthcare IT is personal. It all comes down to one patient, and that patient could be you, me or a member of our family.

The number one priority in healthcare is, therefore, quality. To achieve this it’s essential to deliver and provide high-quality speech recognition to enable doctors and nurses to do what they do best – provide the best standard of patient care. This means the solutions must be easy to implement, use and support and must not make the user’s work more complicated.

So, how close are we to achieving speech-enabled healthcare? Simply put, it depends on the market. Undoubtedly, hospital-wide adoption is on the rise in Northern Europe and in the US in both ambulatory settings in clinics and on acute hospital floors, but there is still a long way to go before we see the hospital-wide roll-out of speech recognition as the input tool for healthcare IT.

Controlling the cost curve

As speech recognition raises the quality of documentation and makes the use of restricted resources more efficient, it works in every market and system. However, in addition to regional differences, varying levels of adoption are also evident between private and public healthcare systems. But, the same dynamics apply to any system, be it public or private, and that is the unrelenting cost curve growth in healthcare.

In the US, healthcare expenditure accounts for 14% of GDP. While many EU countries are nowhere near to US spending levels, healthcare still accounts for the greatest percentage of budget growth in terms of expenditure, yet there is no country that doesn’t need to increase their efficiency.

Cost pressures – especially in light of the UK government’s recent Spending Review and budgets being slashed – remain an important driver for the adoption of speech recognition as cost pressure demands improvements in efficiency. This, in turn, puts pressure on raising the quality of delivery processes through the adoption of IT. The key is to deliver easy-to-use products that can be implemented quickly.

Quantity and quality of care

In some markets, the process from patient consultation to report creation can be measured in weeks. Move to incorporate workflow to speech recognition and it is measured in minutes. This is a major advantage to both referring doctors and patients. Speech recognition also helps clinicians document more clearly, more consistently, more accurately.

The doctor’s narrative is a good example: it is the note by which they communicate among themselves. Speech recognition allows for such a rich physician narrative that it can contribute to improving the quality of care – an important aspect never to be overlooked.

Carrot or stick?

Some markets choose sticks while others choose carrots to drive efficiency and the adoption of health IT. In the US, they have chosen carrots with the meaningful-use of electronic health records reimbursement. As a result, the critical shift that is happening is not that providers have to buy or implement a system, but that doctors have to use these systems.

In Europe governments are encouraging the use of IT in healthcare in a bid to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of their country’s healthcare. In the UK, for instance, the NHS plans to save £20 billion by 2013. It’s an ambitious target and it hopes to achieve it under an initiative called QIPP. Which stands for quality, innovation, productivity and prevention, it’s a framework for maintaining standards of patient care, while – ideally – saving a cash-strapped NHS money.

With that objective in mind, speech recognition is of tremendous value to the usability of IT – which is reflected in the staggering growth numbers of speech-based solutions adoption. The US market, for instance, is becoming a very educated market; beginning to understand how important IT is to improving the quality of patient care. This is helped considerably by the co-operation and specific expertise in their local markets that integration partners bring when speech-enabling their solutions.

The purest business case of all

Speech technology should be viewed as a critical factor for the successful delivery of healthcare through IT. It helps clinicians and nurses to document more clearly, more consistently and more accurately. With speech we have a technology that allows us to bring tremendous value to a very difficult component of healthcare globally: clinical documentation.

With commitment to innovation and superior products and services worldwide, speech technology really will impact the way healthcare is delivered. And, after all, we are very fortunate that the return on investment on speech recognition, the purest business case you can have, is so overwhelmingly compelling – in most implementations it is less than one year.

In the turmoil that the NHS is currently facing, we must not forget the patient. In simple terms the patient requires the most efficient technology to enable good healthcare, at what is more than likely a very difficult time in their lives. Time and again speech delivers on that requirement.