Q. What does a medical transcriptionist do?
Medical transcriptionists (MTs) are specialists in medical language and healthcare documentation. They interpret and transcribe dictation by physicians and other healthcare professionals regarding patient assessment, workup, therapeutic procedures, clinical course, diagnosis, prognosis, etc., editing dictated material for grammar and clarity as necessary and appropriate.
The process of medical transcription may involve editing text that has been produced by speech recognition. This requires listening to dictation while reading a draft created via speech recognition technology and editing the text on a computer screen. This editing may range from minimal to extensive, depending on the capabilities of the speech recognition software and the dictating habits of the originator, and may include correction of content as well as punctuation, grammar, and style.
Q. What characteristics do I need in order to become a medical transcriptionist?
You need excellent English grammar skills, as well as a strong interest in and knowledge of the medical language. You need good visual and auditory ability and excellent listening skills. You need reasonable keyboarding skills and must be able to work for long hours, often in a high-pressure environment. A high level of concentration for extended periods of time is also important.
Q. Where do medical transcriptionists work?
Medical transcriptionists work in hospitals, clinics, physician offices, transcription services, insurance companies, home healthcare agencies, and other locations where dictation for the purpose of healthcare documentation requires transcription. Many MTs work from their homes as independent contractors, subcontractors, or home-based employees.
Q. How will speech recognition technology affect the future of medical transcription?
The amount of healthcare provider dictation continues to increase. However, the availability of qualified MTs is not growing at the same rate. Speech recognition technology is sometimes used to compensate for the shortage of MTs, but it is impossible for this technology, with all of its limitations, to completely eliminate the need for medical transcriptionists. Even at its best, machine-generated text contains errors that need to be corrected by professionals with language skills and an understanding of the health record. MTs continue to be the best qualified to discern the nuances of human speech.
Q. Is transcription being sent to overseas companies?
The offshoring of medical transcription exists because of the shortage of qualified MTs in the United States, as well as rapidly escalating healthcare costs. However, only a very small percentage of the healthcare dictation generated in the U.S. is being sent offshore. MTs can best protect their jobs in the U.S. by increasing their skills through continuing education and quality transcription.
Going to School
Q. How long will it take me to become a medical transcriptionist?
AHDI's Model Curriculum for Medical Transcription, used by educators in developing their programs, recommends a two-year program that includes a minimum of 100 transcription hours in an externship program or simulated professional practice setting, emphasizing a variety of healthcare documents. Some schools offer shorter programs. However, medical transcription is a medical language and healthcare documentation specialty, not a keyboarding specialty, and intensive study is needed to acquire a high level of fluency in the medical language. Remember, you are gaining knowledge that will translate into a lifetime career!
Q. Where can I learn medical transcription?
Programs that teach medical transcription can be found in community colleges, proprietary schools, and vocational-technical schools. There are also a number of online home-study programs which can be found by doing an Internet search.
AHDI advises that you look for programs that allow for interaction between instructors and students and provide opportunities for networking among students. Many classroom and online programs include this feature. This will better prepare you for the real world of medical transcription and for getting your first job in the field.
AHDI's companion paper, Choosing An MT School, is designed to assist you in evaluating any programs you may be considering. We recommend that you look for programs that emphasize excellence in transcription, rather than focusing their advertising on medical transcription as a work-at-home opportunity. While it may be possible for you to do medical transcription from your home, the desire to work at home should not be your primary reason for entering this profession.
We advise you to carefully evaluate claims or promises made to you by any school with regard to future employability or job placement assistance.
Q. Does AHDI accredit medical transcription programs?
AHDI has an MT education program approval process which is not the same as accreditation. A school may be accredited by an accrediting body, such as the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU), but MT programs are not accredited. AHDI in conjunction with AHIMA approves MT programs through the Approval Committee for Certificate Programs (ACCP). Schools submit their applications for approval; and as programs complete successful evaluation, the names of those programs are placed on a listing of approved schools. This provides valuable information for prospective medical transcription students. The current list of approved programs can be found here. More information about the MT Education Program approval process can be found here.
Q. Can I transfer my court-reporting skills to medical transcription?
With additional education and a shift in orientation, yes. The chief difference between court reporting and medical transcription is in the editing. MTs edit when necessary and appropriate for grammar and for clarity, whereas court reporters usually record what is said verbatim. In addition, the medical terminology learned in a court-reporting school is seldom sufficient to satisfy the profession-specific demands of medical transcription. Anatomy and physiology, more advanced terminology, medical transcription practice, and additional English grammar and punctuation may be necessary. With this additional training, many court reporters are successful in transferring their skills to medical transcription. In fact, use of the steno machine may facilitate productivity, a significant factor in many transcription environments.
Q. I have already been trained in another medical field. Why do I need further training?
Learning how to listen with discrimination requires practice and guidance from an experienced medical transcription instructor. If you already have the requisite keyboard skills, the additional courses you need will include many hours of transcribing practice. You probably have a head start, but you will need to learn how to integrate your medical knowledge with keyboarding and listening skills.
Q. Does AHDI provide a medical transcription course?
AHDI is the membership organization for the medical transcription profession. We do not administer educational programs. However, we have developed the Model Curriculum for Medical Transcription, now in its 4th edition, which educators use in developing educational programs. We also offer audio tapes and CDs for use in the classroom and for independent study. In addition, The Book of Style for Medical Transcription, now in its 3rd edition, is considered the gold standard in the industry.
Q. Will I be a certified medical transcriptionist (CMT) when I finish school?
While completion of a medical transcription course may entitle you to a diploma or a certificate of completion from the school you attend, this is not equivalent to the recognized professional designation of Certified Medical Transcriptionist (CMT) or a Registered Medical Transcriptionist (RMT). These credentials can be achieved only by passing the certification examination administered by Prometric for AHDI. An individual can apply for the Registered Medical Transcriptionist (RMT) upon completion of school. Only medical transcriptionists with at least two years of experience in acute-care transcription are considered qualified to sit for the certification exam. To retain either credential, an individual must meet recertification requirements that include continuing education.
Q. Why should I become certified?
While you are not currently required to become credentialed in order to work as a medical transcriptionist, earning the credential demonstrates to employers and peers that you are a professional and committed to being the best you can be. Certification also serves the public interest by assuring that those who become certified have met accepted standards of practice. Certification elevates the profession as well as the individual. Many employers prefer to hire—and pay a premium for—RMTs and CMTs, and many require the credential for career advancement.
Many employers prefer to hire—and pay a premium for—CMTs, and many require the credential for career advancement.
Getting A Job
Q. Will it be easy for me to get a job?
Many new MTs find it very difficult to get their first job in medical transcription. Production demands may prevent hospitals and transcription services from hiring inexperienced people. We recommend that you investigate your local job market BEFORE you choose the career and invest in the education. Seek interviews with potential employers to ask what they expect of a beginning MT and how likely they are to hire a recent graduate. Sometimes a small physician office or local transcription service will hire a beginner.
Some educational programs advertise that jobs are plentiful in the medical transcription field, particularly for those wishing to work at home. Look closely at all claims regarding availability of jobs, as many employers, particularly those who hire home-based MTs, require experience. A few medical transcription educational programs offer job placement assistance. This can be an invaluable tool for helping you make contacts in the transcription industry.
First do the research, then get a good education, and then be creative and persistent. Student membership in AHDI at both the local and national levels will help you stay informed and make connections.
Q. Can I do medical transcription at home?
More and more employers are allowing their experienced MTs to work from home. However, many will require you to work at their facility or in their office before sending you home to work on your own. The home transcriptionist needs an excellent knowledge of the medical language, as well as the English language, and may have to make a substantial investment in reference materials and equipment. Those who provide the highest quality transcription are most likely to be successful.
Q. How can I become a self-employed medical transcriptionist?
The independent medical transcriptionist should have an excellent knowledge of not only the medical language and the English language, but the language of business as well. You should be willing to make a substantial investment in medical reference materials and equipment. The successful independent MT will maintain a high level of quality. Federal regulations call for special security precautions when dealing with protected patient information; this may involve some expense on your part. We also caution you that the IRS has specific regulations about home businesses and independent contractors. Be sure to seek the advice of a qualified attorney and/or tax advisor.
Also see the AHDI publication, Tip Sheet for Becoming a Self-Employed Medical Transcriptionist, which is available on this web site.
Recommended reading: The Independent Medical Transcriptionist (Avila-Weil & Glaccum), 4th edition, published by Rayve Productions (www.rayveproductions.com).
Q. How are medical transcriptionists paid?
Medical transcriptionists may be paid in any of a variety of ways, but chiefly by the hour, by production, or by a combination of hourly pay plus incentive pay for production.
Q. How much money will I earn as a medical transcriptionist?
Earnings vary considerably. A May 2002 survey conducted by AHDI reported an average annual salary of $31,400. Additional information is available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics at the Department of Labor (http://www.bls.gov). Click Wages by Area and Occupation, then For Over 700 Occupations. Choose 31-0000 Healthcare Support Occupations, then 31-9094 Medical Transcriptionists. This will allow you to search for MT salaries in your own state and possibly even your own city.
Another, more recent survey reported in December 2004 by Advance Magazine for Health Information Professionals reveals that certified medical transcriptionists earned more than their noncertified counterparts. Their figure for the average MT salary was $32,847, and their report shows CMTs earning much more-an average of $43,551 annually.
An earlier survey, commissioned by AHDI in 1999 and performed by Hay Management Consultants, analyzed the profession and surveyed the salaries. Three distinct skill levels of medical transcriptionists were identified. Those in the second level earned $1 to $2 an hour more than beginning MTs, and those in level 3 earned yet another $1 to $2 per hour.