Medical mirth

Last Updated 22 March 2014, 13:54 IST

I spent a relatively long phase of my life working as an American-English trainer in a medical transcription company. The experience I garnered was a revelation, as I was able to analyse the way my trainees imbibed the arduous grammar rules and syntax to transcribe medical reports without errors. However, the initial stages of training a batch indeed proved to be challenging.

An example, just to elucidate this point: A trainee wanted to sharpen his pencil to work on a few grammar exercises, and asked me innocuously, “Ma’am, wait a minute for one minute.”Our training director, Karan Khalsa, was a charming, extremely beautiful American-Sikh lady who held the company in her thrall. She was also a very good American-English teacher dealing with the intricacies of American grammar, besides extricating their minds of complications of preconceived notions of grammar.

In my initial days at the training department, I proofread or graded the reports that she taught. I did this with an almost 100 per cent perfect ‘key’ or report which cited what the correct version of the report should be. It was a revelation to discern that Indian trainees did extremely well in the medical component of the report, but faltered in grammar and contextual aspects. Many a time they failed to use the modicum of common sense, proving that the report used sense that was neither ‘common’ nor ‘sense’!

For example, one trainee transcribed the report as, “The patient has chest pain throughout the body.” One important aspect of our training was that after every transcription session, the reports were graded and remedial classes taken, so that the trainees learnt from their mistakes. Once I asked the trainees, “Which word starts with an ‘r’ and ends with a ‘d’, and means ‘round’?” A trainee queried spontaneously without batting an eyelid, “Ma’am, why not ‘round’ itself?” I told him that trainees do not have the right to edit or change an original report and that they must transcribe it verbatim. Finally, they cracked it — the word required was ‘rotund’.

The earlier trainee said, “But, Ma’am, I still think that ‘round’ sounds better.” On some days, you just don’t win.

An interesting aspect of proofreading dummy files was that they were rife with humorous bloopers. They made our work interesting and lightened the tension, for, trainees had transcribed MT as ‘empty’, ‘lumbar’ as ‘long bar’, ‘analgesics’ as ‘NLG6’, ‘weepy’ as ‘VP’, ‘faeces’ as ‘pieces’ and ‘cardiac work up’ as ‘cardiac woke up’!

Smiling, but not gloating over trainees’ faux pas proved that laughter was indeed the best medicine.

A major piece of advice and suggestions we gave trainees was that they should think of the report holistically and in context, seeing that all the words in the reports are related to the patient’s symptoms. This is very important because words transcribed out of context or grammar errors mean an inaccurately transcribed report, which could affect insurance claims.I often told my trainees not to type absentmindedly or carelessly, but to see if each word fit rationally into the report.

For example, a trainee could not have been more off the mark when “The patient is a 27-year-old female” became “The patient is a 27-year-old email”!Another example was when a trainee had to transcribe the medical report with the standard medical phrase ‘Normocephalic and atraumatic’. He hurriedly transcribed it as ‘Normocephalic and automatic’!

(Published 22 March 2014, 13:48 IST)

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