Medical Transcriptionist

Medical transcriptionists (MTs) are the miracle workers of the medical records! They turn doctors’ daily dictation tapes – rough, hurried, harried, mumbled, muttered, highly technical, and always absolutely crucial – into clear, concise, polished gems of documentation.

They work this amazing transformation every day under tight deadlines using just a simple tape or digital audio player, a computer, and a stack of medical books and online reference sources.

What’s in YOUR medical records?

Medical records are the main medical history reference for all healthcare decisions made by you and your physician. These records must also be able to bear scrutiny as formal legal documents – medical records are admissible in court and are frequently used in many types of litigation. Medical transcriptionists take great pride in producing these documents with timeliness, accuracy, and of course, confidentiality. Health records contain all of your personal information, which, besides being a juicy target for identity theft, can sometimes include medical secrets ranging from merely embarrassing to explosive. From halitosis to HIV, MT’s hear it all, and they take very seriously their responsibility to maintain the absolute confidentiality of the dictated materials entrusted to them. Whatever they hear in dictation, MT’s must make certain it stays just between themselves and their keyboards.

Jobs Outlook – “Boom”ing?

Remember all those “baby boomers”? According to the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), job opportunities for MT’s will be good – growing faster than the national average for occupations through 2012, with the demand fueled by the increased healthcare demands of a growing and aging population.

It’s not hard to see that lots more senior citizens needing lots more doctor visits means tons of new medical records to be generated! There’s going to be plenty of work out there to go around.

What kind of people become medical transcriptionists?

All kinds of people are discovering medical transcription to be a very attractive career choice for many reasons:

Young people curious about the medical profession can get a taste of medical training and exposure to many different medical disciplines while gaining invaluable experience.

Many experienced professionals from various industries, chronically unemployed in recent years amidst shrinking payrolls and a jobless “economic recovery”, are finding medical transcription a welcome and fascinating alternative to frustrating, unproductive job searches in their former professions.

Retirees find it a great way to stay involved in a stimulating career, full- or part-time.

Moms and/or dads can cut back on expensive daycare costs by tailoring their work schedule to accommodate their kids and by working from home…!

That’s right: earn money working from the comfort of your own home…!

No, this isn’t one of those phony pitches found peppering the Internet! Performing medical transcription from home is very common and becomes easier each year as technology progresses and Internet mail becomes more secure. This benefits both transcriptionists and their employers, and also greatly facilitates freelance work.

Be your own boss and use your home as a base of operations! Enjoy the many tax and other benefits associated with running your own business.

Or, work for one of the numerous hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare providers or professional service providers that retain medical transcriptionists. The MT’s workplace is usually in a very comfortable setting, such as a hospital, doctor’s office, laboratory, medical library, transcription service office, insurance company, etc. Also, many of these employers offer work-from-home options of their own!

Then there’s the big “O”: Outsourcing…

There has been a steady stream of news lately about various US industries improving their bottom lines by replacing American workers with low-wage overseas labor – skilled jobs like computer programming, telephone help desks – almost any job that can be performed remotely.

In medical transcription, however, issues such as little or no foreign enforcement of US privacy laws, instability of foreign labor, lack of English fluency, expense and uncertainty of adequately training foreign labor, etc. can greatly complicate foreign outsourcing and offset the initially perceived cost savings.

Legal questions have even begun: The California legislature has discussed prohibiting all California industries from using foreign outsourcing involving confidential data, mainly because it is simply not possible to guarantee privacy outside of the country.

The BLS states that foreign outsourcing should not significantly impact the medical transcription profession in the US.

Robot Transcriptionists?

Another MT industry buzz involves new technologies such as speech recognition technologies (SRT’s), computerized “smart” data entry forms (EMR’s, CPR’s), etc. that promise to automate or eliminate traditional transcription work. Several software vendors have been very successfully selling tools of this nature to various industries and have been making noise to promote their use for medical transcription.

It is becoming apparent, however, that the complexity of medical diagnosis and terminology combined with the life-and-death importance of accuracy will prevent large-scale acceptance of these technologies in the medical field for the foreseeable future.

According to the Medical Records Institute (an organization that promotes the adoption of computerized medical records systems), most current research shows that penetration into the medical field by EMR’s is only 5-8%, with SRT’s at less than 1%.

What Skills Do You Need to Get Started?

Aspiring medical transcriptionists do not need exceptional skills or heavy experience. Self-discipline, good English language skills, good typing speed, and computer literacy are the only prerequisites necessary to get you going.

There are numerous MT education programs in private institutions, public colleges, etc. that can train you in the specialized skills you’ll need to earn a CMT certification (Certified Medical Transcriptionist) from the American Association of Medical Transcriptionists (AAMT) and get you started towards becoming an MT. Most of the programs can be completed in 6 to 18 months, depending on whether you have any previous medical background, whether you are working while studying or studying full-time, etc.

Training includes an immersion in medical terminology, studies of anatomy and physiology, drugs and pharmacology, etc. Communications skills such as English, writing, editing, proofreading, and office correspondence are covered as well. Often there is practical instruction available on subjects such as setting up a home-based business.

Many programs even arrange externships: students spend a semester working at a local healthcare facility performing real transcription to gain the kind of real-world experience that so many employers prefer.

What about pay rates?

Employers use various pay structure schemes that are usually linked to the MT’s output. There may be a certain rate-per-line transcribed, an hourly rate with a bonus for extra production, etc. According to the federal online resource “America’s Career Infonet”, the US average median annual income for medical transcriptionists is approximately $27,100, with earnings in more populated and urban areas correspondingly higher.

Where can I get more information?

The AAMT website (www.aamt.org) offers information on beginning and continuing education, CMT certification testing, message boards and forums, job postings and career opportunities, resources for employers, etc. They hold annual membership events and provide support for various congressional initiatives to benefit the industry. The BLS website has a good description of medical transcription, the typical working conditions, employment statistics, etc. (www.bls.gov). MT Daily (www.mtdaily.com) is a popular online forum and message board site dedicated to the profession. All of these have further links to other information sites, medical transcription training services, etc. where you can get answers to additional questions you might have. If you are looking for something close to home, check out your local county college.

Last updated: March 2005