New technology has transformed the work of charting in Saskatoon hospitals and has freed up more time to see patients, according to an emergency room physician.

Dr. Alison Turnquist says anyone who has used Google Assistant or Siri is familiar with voice recognition software, which takes what people say into a microphone and spits it out into text.

Voice recognition software, equipped with a full medical dictionary, is doing the same thing for Saskatoon's emergency room physicians.

'I use it every single day'

"I use it every single day, for every single patient that I see," Turnquist said, adding that is true for most of the emergency physicians with whom she works alongside. "It is extremely efficient now to chart."

It used to take five to 10 minutes to write up a chart, but what was once a time-consuming and dreaded task now takes only a minute or two to complete, she says.  

'It's very reasonable to be able to spend 15 minutes with a patient and then two minutes with a chart, and that's a big deal for us.' - Dr. Alison Turnquist

One of the upshots is emergency room doctors can spend more face-to-face time with patients.

"It's very reasonable to be able to spend 15 minutes with a patient and then two minutes with a chart, and that's a big deal for us," she said.

Seeing 5,000 patients or more a year

Since the dictation system was implemented, it's also resulted in a five-per-cent improvement in seeing patients, she said, which would equate to emergency room doctors seeing a total of 5,000 patients or more in a year.

It also means other doctors have access to a patient's information as soon as she is done dictating, as opposed to waiting for days — or even a week or two — to see a detailed patient chart, she said.

"So we're hopeful that all the specialities will start using it as well, which would mean easily available charts throughout the whole province, instantly."

Watch out for 78-week pregnancies

The only caveat, as any person who has used voice recognition software will know, is when the software mishears what is said. Turnquist notes the software once turned a "seven to eight week pregnancy" into a concerning 78-week pregnancy, while a pelvic exam for the expectant mother accidentally got turned into a prostate exam.

"You do have to be careful to read what you're writing," she said with a chuckle.