2 May 2003
We've taken to calling her Dragon Mary. This is because her name is Mary and she works
for the people who sell the Dragon Dictate system -- actually I think it used to be
called "Dragon Dictate." Now it's "Dragon Speaking Naturally,"
which purports to be "the fast, easy and accurate way to turn speech into text. Users
can dictate into virtually any windows- based application at speeds up to 160 words per
minute and achieve higher levels of accuracy than ever before."
Well. Uh. Not exactly.
When we first got a computer in the office, one of the things Dr. G wanted to do was to
be able to do his own dictation--to eliminate the cost of a transcriptionist (me) and just
dictate into a computer and have it produce perfectly typed technical manuscripts.
Dragon said it could do that.
We first put off getting the software because money was tight. But we eventually
contacted the Dragon people and purchased it. Enter Dragon Mary, whose job it was to train
Dr. G in how to use the system and get the system familiar with his voice.
I sat in on the first instruction, but it was just Dr. G reading words into the
computer. That's when we learned that in order to proceed to the next step, we had to
increase our RAM to 512 mb (because Dragon operates with .wav files, which are huge). More
We contacted our computer people who ordered the new chip and came out to install it.
Only this happens to be a Dell computer and, naturally, it won't recognize the cheaper
chip. So we had to pay three times as much to order a chip from Dell, and we had to wait
another week for it to come.
Finally we had the RAM we were told we needed and another appointment was set up with
Dragon Mary. Apparently things went OK. A followup appointment was made for last Saturday,
but Dr. G was late getting there and she'd already left by the time he arrived, so we had
She asked me to be there so I could help her find lists of patients she could enter
into the system so that it could begin to learn how to recognize those names when they
Dr. G was also graduating from the desk top computer to his hand-held unit today. The
theory was that he could dictate just like he does into his dictation machine now, give me
the unit, I could download it all into the desk top, print off the material, and
voila...he's saved himself the cost of a transcriptionist.
(I have to add that I was less enthusiastic about this. I knew that it wasn't going to
work as perfectly as he expected and that there was going to be post-production work which
would involve me--which I would be doing at the office, thus adding to my stress and
taking away the money I make on the side as a contract transcriptionist. But I didn't say
that because he was so determined to make this work.)
Today Dragon Mary arrived and she and Dr. G got to work. He asked her about how the
machine would recognize names. She assured him it would eventually be a piece of cake.
With all the patient names in the machine and Dr. G's instruction on the hand-held unit
having gone far enough that he was actually starting to know what he was doing, he took
out some patient charts and did some sample dictations, a paragraph of each, so he could
get the hang of dictating names, of going from chart to chart, etc.
When he'd finished his first run, Dragon Mary took the unit and downloaded the .wav
file to the computer, then worked her magic and set it to do the transcription into Word.
The first thing I noticed was that it was very slow. I could have transcribed it
three times in the time it took to translate it from .wav to Word. I didn't want to think
about how long it would take to translate a full day of dictation when this was simply 4
However, "translate" is a definite misnomer. It was garbage. There were
familiar words, but nothing made sense. The notes were not separated into individual
notes, as they were supposed to be; the names were all spelled wrong; most of the
sentences were words, but not the words that he dictated ("date of birth" in one
case was "bitter birth" and in two other cases it was translated as something
not even that close).
Granted, the computer learns, but we're now looking at at least eight hours of
instruction producing nothing. And worst of all, Dragon Mary didn't know how to fix the
problem. All she could say was that this isn't her area of expertise and she'd get another
guy to come and help.
So that's where we are: a very expensive piece of what is, at the moment, junk.
A part of me really, really wants this to work...how nice to have evenings free again.
It's been so long.... Another part of me really doesn't want this to work--I'll have to
give up that extra income.
But mainly, I think all of me just wants it to be settled, one way or another.