November 16, 2008 By Adam Stone
unwieldy mass of pending documentation.
"There have been times when I have had seven investigations in one day, running across two counties, and I have had no computer out there," she said. All those encounters therefore had to be typed up at the office.
After two months of using voice recognition, Upham said she saw a marked improvement. "It's great when you are out there, and if you have a few minutes to pull over by the side of the road you can dictate right there," she said. With ease of access comes richer content. "My notes have increased from about a page and a half for an interview with a victim to almost two to two and a half pages."
This in turn helps ensure appropriate measures are taken to address a situation. "The more information the supervisors have, the more accurately they can determine what kind of follow-through we need to do to get that victim the support they really need," Upham said.
She points to a recent case in which an emergency alert button factored into an overall follow-up plan. Without the ability to dictate her report, Upham said the need for such a tool might have been glossed over. "Small things can be overlooked in the midst of concerns about bigger issues," she said.
Most speech recognition technology cannot hit the ground running. The software first must be trained to recognize the idiosyncrasies of the user's voice.
In practice, this is not difficult. The user reads from a script that the software recognizes. The software matches the familiar patterns with the user's speech and creates a guide for future dictation. The user may need to make tweaks and manual corrections later on when the software fails to recognize an unfamiliar word or an unknown pronunciation.
"The very first time I used it, I had not trained it to my voice and it came out very badly," Brooks said. Half an hour of training got her up and running, and she's been making ongoing edits with each subsequent use, fine-tuning the output.
The get-acquainted period has been well worth the effort, Brooks said. It's not just that she saves time and cuts down on paperwork. By making it easier to generate reports, she said the software actually makes the entire protective system run more smoothly.
"We are always juggling several things, and we as investigators will not always put the notes in the system, just because other things take priority. Yet superiors are not happy that the notes are not in the system," Brooks said.
It's easy to understand how investigators get behind on their paperwork. Here's a typical day for Brooks: "You go to a home and there are Mom and Dad and two kids, so that's four different people. Then we get more than one case a day, so now that is six to eight people you have to interview, and then you have to type in all those notes. It was taking a long time to type my notes or I would put off typing my notes altogether, and then not be able to remember everything that had been said."
This way, people get faster help and cases are closed more quickly. Brooks can move on to the next troubled home and the state can make its family services budget go a little further.
"With the reports that don't require any action, we can get them out of the way and move on to other things," Brooks said. "That means that the people who do need help are going to get that help that much quicker."
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