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Donald Latson says African Americans should never abandon their street smarts. Being aware watching his back and acclimating to corporate America “without selling my soul” have served the 33-year-old well. Last year when his employer, Dictaphone Corp., cast a blind eye on his invention, which would help doctors dictate and document patient records more efficiently, Latson didn’t take “no” sitting down–he left. That move would serve to revolutionize the medical industry’s dictation process and possibly reap millions for Latson.
Latson is targeting the $9.3 billion integrated voice response, dictation systems and voice mail market, of which the medical industry is a a major client. Federal regulations require doctors in board- certified hospitals to file a patient’s medical history within 24 hours of admission. Doctors traditionally take a break in their rounds and dictate their diagnoses onto a cassette or into a hospital’s mainframe computer. The information is later transcribed and becomes part of the patient’s files. But changes in health care have increased doctors’ patient loads. As a result, it has become increasingly difficult for them to meet their filing deadlines, particularly with medical records reporting systems that have not kept up with the times.
In September 1995, as a systems marketing manager at Stratford, Connecticut-based Dictaphone, Latson had an idea. Pulling from his experience producing two voice-integrated record management systems and repeatedly beating his sales quotas during his nine-year tenure at the firm, “I thought that I could develop a wireless system that allowed doctors mobility,” he recalls. Latson took his idea to Dictaphone’s powers that be, but the stodgy, 107-year-old company would have none of it. “Many companies talk the talk that they want to understand how their product fits in the marketplace,” says Latson. “It’s something they tout to the public, but the decisions that are made within corporations contradict this.”
Wireless equipment is difficult to use in hospitals because its radio frequency interferes with intravenal pumps, CAT scans and heart monitoring equipment. “They said it wasn’t in their strategic plans, and that such technology would not be possible until the year 2003,” he recalls. “There I was looking at people with titles who weren’t doing the work. I decided I had to control my own destiny,” says Latson who, with his wife, Cheryl, has three children.
For the next year, Latson, who graduated from Valdosta State College in Valdosta, Georgia, with a dual degree in business and information systems, spent weekends researching his idea. Adopting a term from his teenage days of “cruising the ‘hood” in Tampa, Florida, Latson called his invention the VoiceCRUISER. But it would take more than a million dollars to bring the product to market–$1.2 million to be exact. In September 1996, Latson was introduced to the CEO of CompuSPEAK Laboratories by his mentor, Larry Bergeron, who had developed voice mail as an engineer at Wang Labs in the 1970s.
The chemistry was right between Latson and CompuSPEAK. The Olathe, Kansas-based firm had a technological prowess in voice and pattern recognition and wireless technology. It also