There are roughly 106,000 medical transcriptionists working in the United States. Job-growth statistics suggest the occupation will grow by 11 percent over the next ten years; this is an average rate of growth for all types of jobs combined.
Medical transcriptionists transcribe recorded dictation created by health-care professionals into written medical reports or other documents, communications, or administrative reports. Most use a headset and control the speed of the transcription with a foot pedal. Text is keyed into a computer and then edited for clarity and correct grammar. Medical histories, discharge summaries, reports regarding patient physicals, surgical reports, consultation records, autopsies, diagnostic results including imaging and laboratory results, letters of referral, and patient progress reports are all types of transcription a medical transcriptionist might be asked to do.
When the transcription is complete, it is returned to the individual who requested the work for review and signature, and is then entered as part of a patient’s permanent record. Medical transcriptionists must be familiar with anatomic and physiological terminology, diagnostic procedures, treatment assessments, pharmacology, and other medical terms. They must recognize abbreviations and translate them into their correct terms, sometimes using medical dictionaries or other tools. Medical transcriptionists must have a complete understanding of the stylistic components of medical records, as well as of patient information confidentiality. When an error or inconsistency is noted, the transcriptionist must confirm what was intended in order to reduce error in patient treatments.
Most dictating equipment is either digital or analog, although the Internet has become an increasingly popular means of transmitting documentation. Some medical transcription departments work closely with information systems experts and computer programmers to stream in voice messages and use network interfacing to supply seamless data transfers. Using this approach, transcriptionists can work with personal computers or personal data assistants (PDAs) able to utilize dictation software. Speech-recognition technology has also increased the speed with which transcriptions can be completed. Electronically transferring sound into written text results in a working draft. Because this work is done quickly and without human effort, the transcriptionist can spend greater time carefully reviewing, editing, and formatting reports.
Transcriptionists who specialize in radiology, pathology, or other areas that use specialized terminology more frequently depend on speech-recognition technology.
Some medical transcriptionists work in offices and may be assigned additional tasks such as welcoming patients, taking appointments, answering telephones, and managing mail.
Most medical transcriptionists work for transcription services, in hospitals, doctor’s offices, laboratories, government facilities, clinics, or medical libraries, or from home. Eye strain and muscular or skeletal problems are common, as transcriptionists remain in the same position for extended periods, making repetitive motions and studying a computer screen. This job includes a certain amount of stress; accuracy is of the utmost importance, and the difference between one letter and another can make a tremendous difference in a diagnosis or treatment.
Most employers prefer that applicants have at least some postsecondary medical transcription training, as well as both writing and computer skills. Vocational schools, junior colleges, and distance-learning programs offer both one-year certification programs and two-year associate’s degrees. Most curriculums consist of coursework in physiology and anatomy, grammar, punctuation, English, medical ethics, and legal issues. Some programs combine formal classroom instruction with supervised hands-on experience. Transcriptionists who are familiar with medical jargon and terminology from previous work experience are often able to reach proficiency through some refresher courses and training.
While medical transcription programs do not require formal accreditation, the Approval Committee for Certificate Programs (ACCP), under the auspices of the Association for Healthcare Documentation Integrity (AHDI) and the American Health Information Management Association, accredits medical transcription programs. This accreditation is voluntary.
The AHDI awards designations as Registered Medical Transcriptionist (RMT) and Certified Medical Transcriptionist (CMT). The Registered Medical Transcriptionist certification is reserved for those who recently have completed an accredited program and have fewer than two years of acute-care experience. The Certified Medical Transcriptionists credential is earned by completing and passing an AHDI level-1 registered medical transcription exam; it is reserved for transcriptionists with a minimum of two years’ experience in acute care using a variety of dictation, report, and format types in multiple surgical specialties, and who have also passed a certification examination. RMTs and CMTs must recertify periodically, which requires ongoing training and payment of a recertification fee.
With sufficient experience, medical transcriptionists can advance their careers to assume supervisory roles or become consultants or teachers. Moving to self-employed home-based work or purchasing or establishing a medical transcription business is another step up. Some transcriptionists return to school to become medical coders or medical records and health information technicians or administrators.
The median hourly wage for medical transcriptionists is a little less than $16. Midrange earners receive between $13 and $19 per hour. Those in the lowest 10 percent earn less than $11 per hour, while those in the top 10 percent make more than $22 per hour.