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When you “just can’t make it out” in medical transcription

On those frustrating days…

I’ve been taking my medical transcription course for almost 11 months now.  I am currently in a chapter in which there are a lot of transcriptions to complete.  Sometimes it has been overwhelming, sometimes it has been easy.

The reason why it can be overwhelming sometimes is because it is very hard for a student with untrained ears and very limited knowledge and understanding of medical terminology to hear what a doctor is saying in a recorded audio file.  Get a few days’ worth of these types of difficult audio files to type out, and frustration can ensue.  Thank goodness for the helpful staff at the school, who are always there to talk a student through these tough times in the course.  Honestly and personally, I felt on these days like I was in boot camp, and felt that I might actually not be able to make it through this course.  Maybe that won’t be the experience that everyone has, but it certainly has been mine a few times.  The following tips are a few ways that helped me out with this dilemma, all of which greatly helped me.

Turn it up

This is the most obvious answer to the problem of listening to difficult audio files, and I think that everyone would naturally do this.  There were times when I did not want to turn the audio up for fear of hurting my ears.  However, once in a while turning up the volume will expose the ‘d’ or  ‘k’ or other sound or the ending of a word that is not discernible at a normal volume.  This is often the first thing I do when I’m stuck on a word, and sometimes to my surprise, three or more words or syllables that I couldn’t hear before become audible, though I would not listen to an entire dictation at loud levels.

Turn it down

Of all the skills in discerning speech in audio files, this was the hardest for me to practice.  “If I can’t hear it at the volume I’ve got it at now, I will certainly not hear it a lower level,” was my first thought on lowering audio volume, but knowing that others who have over 30 years of experience in medical transcription who say to lower the volume must certainly know something I don’t.  Once I tried it few times, it rapidly became one of the first things I do when I cannot make out a word or phrase.

Why does this work?  I will try to answer this as best I can as a layperson.  Audio that is played too loud causes vibration, which causes distortion in speakers of any type, even if the speakers are noise cancelling headphones.  Also, lowering the volume can affect the white noise in the recording more so than it might the voice tone, so you may be able to make out words and phrases that you wouldn’t at your normal listening level.  You can turn the volume up or down at areas of trouble in the audio, and then return to your normal volume.

Slow it down

When you are listening to a speech or a presentation somewhere, don’t you sometimes wish you could slow down the speaker so you can really hear what they are trying to say?  Personally, I would rather a doctor slow down their speech so we can better understand them, as it would help us to complete their dictations in more of a timely manner, but when they are speaking too fast, I love that I at least have the option to slow down their speed.  Unfortunately it does not always work, but when slowing down an audio file, don’t worry about it slowing down your speed, because the real goal here is the output of your quality as a medical transcriptionist, not your output speed.  Once you gain experience, your output speed will naturally increase.  Unfortunately, slowing down the audio sometimes distorts the sound or amplifies white noise and even will create an echo effect, so when this happens try lowering the volume as well to see if that helps you make out a word that the doctor is saying.

Speed it up

What seems to be most unnatural thing that does not make sense sometimes works the best.  Almost every dictation I transcribe in school has been improved by this one tip.  The reason why this works is because when the audio file plays at a faster rate, much of the white noise, low hum and some of the background noise is lost in addition to some of the trailing or humming vocal sounds that seem to muffle important syllables.  You will find that when you speed the audio by one or two speeds and read through your entire dictation along at that speed, you will catch words that you either heard wrong in the first place, or couldn’t make out by any of the aforementioned techniques. Speeding the audio up will sometimes cause syllables to be heard for what they actually are, whereas the slower or normal speed or background noise muffles them.  I love this option.  It increases my accuracy.

Walk away and come back later

Though it’s a dismay to me to leave a dictation unfinished, I have been pleasantly surprised when I have had to walk away from a difficult transcription to do something like go pick up the kids from school or perform a task in the house, and return to continue to work on that same dictation, to find that I can somehow hear it so much more accurately!  This amazes me, and I don’t know why it works, but it does, and it seems to always work very well.  Sometimes a little bit of a longer break from a dictation works better than a short one.  I would love to learn the science behind this one someday.  Sometimes it is more productive to walk away and come back later than to try to suffer it out and end up doing a poor job.

Perspective

Keep the right perspective.  The right perspective will help you feel better as you work through difficult dictations.  Remember why you’re doing this, why you chose this profession.  Think about your best dictation days, and how that made you feel.  Take a break, do something you enjoy, and then return to your work.  You will feel better and be in a better frame of mind to complete your work.

Share

Are you a student in medical transcription, or other form of transcription? How do you tackle difficult audio files? Share below, I’d love to hear your methods.

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