Mayo Clinic has given about 400 medical transcriptionists the option to take a “voluntary separation package” or pursue another job as the needs for their services diminish.

Transcriptionists, or health-care documentation specialists, work remotely from home and often outside the Rochester area or even Minnesota. They transcribe medical notes recorded by doctors and other personnel.

The medical transcriptionist industry, long considered an important part of any major medical practice, has faced dramatic job cuts, outsourcing and wage reductions in recent years as technology has taken over a lot of duties.

While Mayo Clinic is not using the terms “layoffs” or “job cuts,” most medical transcriptionists believe this is beginning of the end for their department.

The “separation packages” were offered to staff who support the Rochester, Jacksonville, Fla., and Scottsdale, Ariz., campuses.

“Dictation volumes are declining across Mayo Clinic. Mayo is in the process of assessing these volumes and looking to find ways to best match its transcription workforce with dictation volumes,” according to the internal announcement of the changes on April 4. “The goal is to reduce the impact of these changes on staff and provide a solution that is in the best interest of Mayo’s patients.”

In a mandatory live meeting on Skype, Mayo Clinic gave transcriptionists 45 days or until May 19 to decide whether to take the buyouts.

“This is part of a national trend in health care. New tools are reducing the need for transcription services. As a result, the need for medical transcriptionists to convert dictation into written reports is also declining,” said Roshy Didehban, chair of practice administration at Mayo Clinic, last week. “We’ve had honest, ongoing conversations with our staff about this change and are taking steps to help reduce the effect of this change on our staff.”

These changes are being made just as Mayo Clinic prepares to adopt Epic Systems’ electronic health-records system, which includes voice-transcribing features created by M*Modal.

The Rochester area facilities are scheduled to switch to Epic on May 5.

However, Mayo Clinic says there is no direct connection to the transcriptionist changes and Epic.

“The reduction in transcription volumes is a national industry trend not specific to Epic. In response to this trend, Mayo Clinic is looking at ways to manage the transcription workforce, which is why we offered this voluntary separation package to transcription staff who may be interested in leaving Mayo Clinic and/or pursuing other opportunities,” said Kelley Luckstein, of Mayo’s Department of Public Affairs.

“We were told if we didn’t accept (the offered severance package) we would keep our current job, but they couldn’t say for how long as our ‘Go Live’ day with Epic is on May 5 and after that they expect to need even less of us,” said a Mayo Clinic transcriptionist on the condition of anonymity to protect their job.

Transcriptionists acknowledge that their industry overall is changing rapidly. What was once a well-paying and in-demand professional career is now an uncertain job.

Mayo Clinic Health Systems cut or outsourced 188 transcriptionists in Wisconsin in 2014 and 82 transcriptionists in 2013. However, many medical transcriptionists who have worked for other institutions and companies say Mayo Clinic is one of last, “good” places to work.

That is adding to their distress over the coming changes.

“It’s pretty low. We have all lived in fear/worry/dread of the unknown for nearly a year now. We love our job here and no one wants to lose it. It’s not just losing this job but we all know that this is the end of our entire career as transcriptionists,” wrote one transcriptionist when asked about the morale of their department at Mayo Clinic.

Concerned about their losing their job, the transcriptionist asked to remain anonymous.

Even though the transcription jobs are dwindling, Mayo Clinic is offering effected remote employees the chance to pursue other jobs within the clinic.

“Mayo does have opportunities to work remotely, including positions within Office of Access Management, Revenue Cycle, HR Connect, as well as other support positions that offer telework as an option,” said Mayo’s Luckstein.

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Jeff has worked at newspapers as a reporter, columnist, editor, photographer and copy editor since 1992. He started at the Post Bulletin in 1999. Kiger is the PB's business reporter and writes a daily column, "Heard on the Street."