How to Become a Medical Transcriptionist

Becoming a medical transcriptionist takes dedication and hard work. There are, however, many medical transcription positions that reward that hard work and dedication and many medical transcriptionists end up working at home; some even own their own medical transcription services. Read on to discover how you can become a medical transcriptionist.


1. What does a Medical Transcriptionist Do?

The medical transcriptionist transcribes patient information by listening to dictation and then typing the information into a word processing program. Doctors and other healthcare providers routinely create oral records that must then be transcribed and entered into the patient's permanent healthcare file. These records include assessments, doctor-patient interactions, hospital records, diagnosis, prognosis, and tests and procedures the patient may need or may have had.

Medical transcription is much more than a typing job. Medical transcriptionists have to be familiar with medical terminology and medical practices. They also must have excellent English and grammar skills and be proficient with a computer. They have to have good listening skills too; sometimes the dictation they are transcribing from may be from someone for whom English is not their first language and they may have accents to deal with.

Although certification is not required for the medical transcriptionist, like any other field, employers prefer to hire those with education and experience. You could expect to spend anywhere from 9 to 18 months initially in medical transcription training and then you would most likely need to take refresher courses from time to time as the medical field and its policies and procedures continue to evolve.

2. Medical Transcription Training

Medical transcription training is conducted through colleges and vocational schools across the United States. You can take classes online or at a campus location. Although not required, the medical transcription student would be well advised to seek training that has been approved by the ACCP (Approval Committee for Certificate Programs) which has been established by the Association for Healthcare Documentation Integrity (AHDI). Not only will this endorsement assure you are getting quality medical transcription training, but employers may give more weight to students who have been trained through an approved educational program or institution.

Medical transcription training includes training in Pharmacology, Medical Terminology, Anatomy and Physiology, Word Processing, and other computing skills. It may also include courses in Business English and Editing and Proofreading. These courses are often taught by those who have actually worked as medical transcriptionists and then furthered their education in order to teach this field. The program may also include a medical transcription practicum, where students could put their skills to work in a supervised setting. There are also federally approved medical transcription apprenticeship programs about which the AHDI offers more information.

3. Online Medical Transcription Training

You can easily find medical transcription training online and train in the comfort of your home. You can find courses that supply the equipment you'll need, such as a laptop and a foot pedal, which is used to pause the dictation or you can purchase the equipment yourself. You'll want to be careful when you're searching online for medical transcription training because like anything else listed on the Internet, there are good ads and those that may not deliver all that they promise.

In addition, you can take medical transcription training online through an accredited school and qualify for financial aid, whereas you may have to foot the entire bill yourself if you don't train with an accredited school. Finally, if you do choose a course that offers an equipment option, try to purchase the equipment yourself separately. You may not get the best deal on a laptop purchased as part of a course and you can have a much better selection by purchasing your own outright.

Some medical transcription training courses and schools use the fact that medical transcriptionists can work at home as a big part of their sales pitch. While it is true that a medical transcriptionist can work at home, it may be difficult to find a medical transcription position at home without any experience. Just don't let that be the reason you choose a particular school or a particular course because you may have to work outside of the home as a medical transcriptionist in order to gain the experience required for most at home medical transcription jobs.

4. How much can a Medical Transcriptionist Earn?

A career as a medical transcriptionist can be a lucrative career indeed! Obviously, experience pays and medical transcriptionists that are registered or certified can earn more than those without any credentials. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average hourly wage for medical transcriptionists in 2006 was $14.40. Those who worked in hospitals earned slightly more than medical transcriptionists that worked in doctor's offices, while medical transcriptionists who worked in diagnostic laboratories or those who specialized earned even more.

Some employers, particularly those who hire medical transcriptionists that work from home pay by the line. Eight to ten cents per 62-65 character line is typical and many employers pay bonuses to those medical transcriptionists that exceed certain production requirements. Medical transcriptionists who work nights and week-ends may also be paid a shift differential. It is important to note that while most medical transcriptionists who work full-time in physician's offices, hospitals, and laboratories enjoy a benefits package, medical transcriptionists who work from home are most likely to be independent contractors with no benefits offered.

5. Speech Recognition Technology

Medical transcriptionists have it easier than they used to due to the use of speech recognition technology. This technology provides a written record of the spoken word and is widely used in the medical transcription as well as other fields. However, because this technology cannot make judgment calls the way a human can, it does not eliminate the need for medical transcriptionists. Human medical transcriptionists will always be needed to fill in the gaps left by speech recognition technology. Furthermore, the more specialized the documentation, the less help this technology is.

The technology does make the job of medical transcription easier though. Often, a medical transcriptionist just needs to edit the document rather than create it from scratch. This can obviously save a lot of time and allow the medical transcriptionist to be more productive. In addition, the use of speech recognition technology can aid in the reduction of repetitive stress injury (RSI), such as carpal tunnel syndrome, which is common among those who type for long periods of time.

Doctors and healthcare professionals who dictate using speech recognition technology may speak more clearly and enunciate better, which is another advantage of using the technology. Still, a human will often need to determine the difference between words that sound alike by listening to the context of the dictation. For example, the technology may not be able to determine the difference between words such as "urine" and "you're in," which of course, would dramatically alter the text. For this reason and others, humans will always have a position in the medical transcription field.

6. Medical Transcription Equipment

Anyone contemplating entering the medical transcription field may wonder what equipment they will need, especially if they plan on doing this job from home. A computer is a given. Not only will the medical transcriptionist receive his or her assignments via the Internet, they will use the computer to complete them. Word processing software is also a requirement; most employers will specify which particular program they require, but for the most part, it is standard word processing software.

A foot pedal is also needed in order to be able to pause the dictation. Using your hands to do this over and over while trying to type just isn't productive and will slow down the entire process. You can purchase a foot pedal with a USB connection that plugs directly into your computer so there's no need to worry about complicated connections.

It may be up to the medical transcriptionist whether or not to invest in speech recognition technology; however, keep in mind that this technology doesn't do the job for you; it only makes it easier. Of course, there is still the investment of training, however the serious medical transcriptionist can recoup his or her investment in a relatively short time and earn a lucrative living for some time to come.

7. The Medical Transcription Career

Despite all the hype about medical transcription being a work at home career, 70 percent of medical transcriptionists worked in doctor's offices and hospitals in 2006, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. To be sure, there are those medical transcriptionists that prefer to work in a medical setting rather than at home for a variety of reasons, not the least of which may be the benefit package offered to them. In addition, working in a medical setting would almost guarantee the medical transcriptionist steady work and they wouldn't have to worry about finding clients.

Whether you work at home or in a medical setting, though, the job of medical transcription is essentially the same. You sit for long hours and type the words you hear dictated by a healthcare professional. You may or may not work with speech recognition technology; if you do, you will have to edit the text for any mistakes. Despite your training, there will be words with which you are unfamiliar and you will need to look them up in medical reference books. Even words you are familiar with will need to be looked up in order to get the spelling right. Medical transcription is more than a job however; it is a career that most medical transcriptionists find satisfying.

8. The Work at Home Medical Transcriptionist

While there are many, many medical transcriptionists working at home today, not all of them started out that way. Employers are reluctant to hire inexperienced medical transcriptionists fresh out of school to work unsupervised. After all, these are patient records and the wrong information in a patient's record could be deadly! However, many training schools, both online and offline, have job placement assistance and there are some employers so impressed with the quality of the school's graduates, that they are willing to hire inexperienced graduates.

For the most part, though, the aspiring medical transcriptionist should expect to work in a supervised setting, such as a doctor's office, hospital, laboratory, or even a medical transcription service before he or she is able to secure enough work to make a living transcribing at home. However, once you have that experience under your belt, which usually takes 1 to 3 years, work at home medical transcription jobs are plentiful!

Isn't technology grand! There are many medical transcription positions available in all parts of the country that you can get hired for from the comfort of your home. You will receive digital files, transcribe them and then upload them to a secure database. These jobs usually pay per line rather than per hour and there are usually no benefits for the work at home medical transcriptionist. You will also have to have a high-speed Internet connection; dial-up isn't acceptable for this position; however, some medical transcription companies are willing to reimburse you for your Internet connection costs.

9. Medical Transcription Credentials

Although neither certification nor registration is a requirement for the medical transcriptionist, there are certain voluntary credentials medical transcriptionists can earn, which will serve them well. Again, employers prefer to hire those with education and experience and the credentials awarded medical transcriptionists by the AHDI will enable the medical transcriptionist to earn more money and secure more prestigious positions in the medical transcription field.

Recent graduates of medical transcription training programs or those with fewer than 2 years experience in acute care may take the exam to become a Registered Medical Transcriptionist (RMT). This is considered a level 1 exam and you may notice in some job postings the requirement for a level 1 RMT. Now, when you see that type of ad, you'll know what it is referring to and how to qualify for that position.

The other credential awarded by the AHDI is the CMT (Certified Medical Transcriptionist). This is considered a level 2 or expert exam and is designed for those medical transcriptionists with 2 or more years of acute care transcription experience. This is a prestigious designation in the medical transcription industry and those who possess this credential will be rewarded with higher pay and even more choices of where they will be able to work.
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