Health authorities plan to save $3 million by privatizing the jobs of 130 medical transcriptionists who work in Abbotsford, New Westminster and downtown Vancouver.
The move has angered the Hospital Employees’ Union, which argues outsourcing the work will put sensitive patient information in less secure hands because the bidding firms use employees who work from their homes.
“We have concerns that virtually all patient records will be transcribed by these subcontractors in private homes on personal computers anywhere in the country,” HEU spokesman Mike Old said.
Doctors dictate findings on patients’ conditions, test results and other information, which is then sent to transcriptionists to be added to the health record system.
Lower Mainland health authorities already outsource nearly half their transcription to Ontario-based Accentus and the union says its home-based subcontractors must log twice as many hours to earn the same pay as local HEU members, with fewer benefits.
Yoel Robens-Paradise, executive director for Lower Mainland health information management at Providence Health Care, denies there is any security risk and noted the system has been in use for years.
The successful bidder – to be picked by September – would be bound by B.C. privacy law and its employees would work on secure online data servers.
“The software is such that it doesn’t leave any patient information on people’s computers,” Robens-Paradise said. “The information is not going to be in bits and pieces in somebody’s bedroom.”
None of the work can leave Canada, he said, adding there is no discernible difference in quality and accuracy between private and in-house transcription.
Robens-Paradise said the shift is also part of a move to replace duplicate dictation software systems, some of which are older and don’t make best use of speech recognition technology.
Private firms with more distributed workers can complete transcription faster than a fixed number of in-house staff, he said, and the shift will significantly cut transcription costs from the current $14 million annually.
“We can save $3 million in taxpayers’ money and have that go back into providing direct care in the health system,” he said.
The HEU also argues the outsourced costs have doubled over four years but Robens-Paradise said that is because the volume of outsourced transcription has been going up, adding the per-minute cost of private transcription hasn’t changed since 2006.
Medical transcriptionists had previously been based at each local hospital but were subsequently consolidated into three hubs in the region.
Lower Mainland health authorities share various services to contain costs and the province has directed them to shave $100 million from their budgets.