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Offshore transcription is a business model in which transcription assignments are sent to specialists who are in foreign countries. These specialists receive the assignments, complete them, then send them back, usually within a matter of hours. Offshore transcription services are most common in the medical field but can be used in almost any situation in which a professional needs records, files or recordings transcribed. Outsourcing tasks to foreign workers often saves costs and proves more time-efficient than looking for a qualified employee at home. Just the same, the practice has remained somewhat controversial and must be entered into with some understanding of the attendant risks.
Broadly speaking, transcription is the process through which recorded notes, thoughts and recollections are typed into a single document. Doctors, in particular, rely on transcription services to build patient files and keep track of information related to diagnoses and treatment plans. Qualified transcriptionists work in some offices to provide these services on a full-time basis.
Companies and practices that are looking to save costs often consider services provided through outside contractors. Independent contractors are not employees and, as such, they usually receive payments on a per-project basis. When these contractors are located in other countries, they are referred to as offshore staff members.
One of the main benefits of offshore transcription services is cost savings. Employees who are abroad might have much lower costs of living and frequently are willing to accept wages that are far lower than domestic employees would receive for the same work. Some countries tend to have strict labor and employment laws, as well, which often dictate how much workers must be paid and the maximum hours that can be worked, among other things. Many of these restrictions can be circumvented by contracting with foreigners.
Outsourced business transcription can also lead to improved turnaround time. Most of the time, offshore transcription happens online. Companies will upload their recordings and related files to a central server, which workers anywhere in the world can access. Depending on the service, doctors and other professionals might also be able to call a secure number and leave direct recordings of information to be transcribed. At least one transcriptionist is often available for material at any time, which can lead to almost immediate completion in many cases.
Most of the work is completed in large staffing centers that are owned and operated by offshore transcription companies. Local employees usually qualify to work by applying directly to that company. Sometimes a test is required, but that is not always true — companies usually have the discretion to train and promote staffers based on their own internal rubrics of success.
Low-quality output is one of the biggest risks that companies face with offshore transcription. Of course, this problem is not unique to foreign work, but it seems more common in this sector because it is much more difficult to oversee. Credentials of foreign workers are often difficult for companies to verify, and not all overseas transcription companies are legitimate.
Another potential downside of offshore transcription services has to do with legal restrictions and requirements. Particularly with medical data, patient privacy laws in most places seriously restrict the kinds of information that can be shared, how the sharing can happen and who can be privy to the information. Almost all laws are country-specific, which can raise significant privacy concerns when sensitive personal information crosses international borders. Companies that are not careful can inadvertently leave themselves open to legal discipline and litigation.
There are both pros and cons of offshore transcription. For the practice to make sense, a company must carefully weigh the potential costs against the perceived benefits. Saving time and money is always important, but it is usually worth it only when the decision is supported by positive long-term analysis.