The health care system will outsource the work starting Feb. 28. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

The health care system serving the greater Kennebec Valley region will eliminate 28 positions responsible for transcribing medical records when it outsources the work at the end of next month.

MaineGeneral Health, with a flagship hospital in Augusta, will outsource the roles to AQuity Solutions beginning Feb. 28, according to internal announcements to staff. The company is headquartered in North Carolina, and employs medical scribes in the United States, India, Canada and Australia, according to its website.

The outsourcing will eliminate 21 regularly scheduled and seven per diem transcription and virtual scribe employees, said Joy McKenna, a MaineGeneral Health spokesperson.

“The move to outsource this service has been a national trend for more than a decade, and MaineGeneral is the last large health care system in the state to do so,” she said.

In a Dec. 14 email to soon-to-be eliminated employees, MaineGeneral Health’s senior finance director said the staff could apply for other positions within the health care system or with AQuity.

Staff who stay until Feb. 28 will receive severance pay plus a $5,000 bonus, according to a letter to one employee being laid off. No one has resigned yet, McKenna said.

Transcription and virtual scribes listen to medical providers’ dictated notes about patient care and turn them into a clear, written record. They must be versed in medical terminology, and type accurately and quickly, according to one job listing with AQuity.

MaineGeneral’s transcription and virtual scribe teams were notified Dec. 8 that their jobs were being outsourced. Staff who transcribe for imaging services are not affected, according to a Dec. 9 report from MaineGeneral Health administration to staff systemwide.

While MaineGeneral will see savings by outsourcing the work, that wasn’t the main factor behind the decision, McKenna said. Rather it came down to difficulty finding staff.

“We have experienced persistent staff vacancies in these areas, which can affect patient safety and timely billing. The move to outsource this service is consistent with industry standards,” stated the administration report.

McKenna praised the work of MaineGeneral’s transcription and virtual scribe staff.

“Unfortunately, the service is not sustainable with the level of staffing we have had. We appreciate the impacted employees, and are working with them to find redeployment opportunities,” McKenna said.

One laid-off staff member expressed worry not just about employees’ personal futures but about the quality of the health care system’s future medical records.  

“You can’t make a medication error. It can compromise someone’s health,” said the employee, who declined to be named because the employee was not permitted to speak to the media.

Quality and safety are paramount when considering any operational change, McKenna said.

That’s why two of the affected employees have been hired for new quality assurance roles to monitor the outsourced work, she said. MaineGeneral staff will review any transcribed reports before they are finalized.

MaineGeneral also has been working to allow medical staff, if they choose, to use medical dictation software to document their own notes.  

“This project will be available as an option for medical staff to use in the near future,” McKenna said.

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Erin Rhoda

Erin Rhoda is the editor of Maine Focus, a team that conducts journalism investigations and projects at the Bangor Daily News. She also writes for the newspaper, often centering her work on domestic and...