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Frequently Asked Questions

Free Info on our recommended Medical Transcription Program leading to an exciting home based medical transcription career

What is Medical Transcription?

By it's simplest definition, Medical Transcription is the process whereby voice dictation is converted to a typewritten (hard copy or electronic) format. Of course, to truly understand the nature of Medical Transcription, a more detailed explanation is in order.

Consider that each day in hospitals all over the country, thousands of patients are admitted and discharged. Examinations are conducted, procedures are performed and recommendations are made. It is not uncommon for multiple physicians to be involved in a simple procedure for a single patient. Radiologists, Pathologists, Anesthesiologists, Surgeons, and a host of other medical specialists must all coordinate their efforts to ensure that patient care is both adequate and appropriate.

Underpinning all of these activities is a complex web of medical and patient information. Each patient-related activity and procedure must be meticulously documented and then added to the patient's permanent record. Over time, all of this information accumulates in a centralized medical records repository where it serves as a critical resource for patient care - facilitating accurate diagnoses and appropriate treatments. Indeed, timely patient care often hinges on the ability of Radiology, Pathology, and other specialty departments to quickly conduct their examinations and report their findings.

Verbal dictation is by far the most common method for documenting and reporting the results of examinations and procedures. Physicians generally use either a cassette based voice dictation system or a digital voice dictation system to record their findings. Dictating reports verbally not only allows physicians to be more thorough in their reporting, it also saves them a great deal of time.

The process of converting this voice dictation to a typewritten format is known as transcription.

What skills and experience are required for success in this field?

Medical Transcriptionists must complete advanced training in medical terminology and have a thorough understanding of policies, procedures and documentation protocols required for the production of medical records.

In addition, the following skills and attributes should be considered important for success in the field of Medical Transcription:

  •   Advanced knowledge of anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, systems, diagnoses, and a familiarity with terminology specific to a variety of medical specialties.
  •   Excellent command of the English language and solid grammar and spelling skills.
  •   Access to, familiarity with, and ability to use appropriate medical reference material efficiently.
  •   Proficiency with appropriate word-processing hardware and software and transcription equipment.
  •   Solid typing skills.
  •   Good judgement.
  •   Ability to concentrate and decipher marginally intelligible dictation and interpret varied dialects, accents and speech patterns.
  •   Ability to work independently with minimal supervision.
  • Are there other skills, training and experience which would also prove helpful?

  •   Associates or Bachelors degree in a life science or liberal arts discipline.
  •   Certified Medical Transcriptionist (CMT) designation.
  • How can I gain these skills?

    Most competent Medical Transcriptionists possess inherent aptitudes in spelling, language and grammar. However, nearly all of the other necessary skills can be acquired through experience and training.

    The quickest way to gain the requisite anatomy, medical terminology and pharmacology skills is through training. There are a number of excellent training courses available on the market. There are also numerous programs of study available through local community colleges and other training organizations.

    Once a basic level of competence has been achieved, skills must be refined through practice and repetition. Because of the complex nature of medical transcription, learning retention requires continuous effort. The most effective way to internalize formal training and gain depth in skills is through practical application. The best Medical Transcriptionists are continually updating their skills through a combination of ongoing training and experience. Rapid advances in technology and medicine virtually guarantee that continuous improvement will be essential to success in this field in the future.

    What drives the demand for Medical Transcription?

    Demographic data indicates that our population is rapidly aging at the same time we are achieving significant improvements in average lifespan. These demographic patterns along with technological and legal trends suggest that the need for accurate medical transcription will accelerate dramatically in coming years.

    How long does it take to become productive and competent?

    This depends very much on your personal motivation level. There is no point in mincing words here. Medical transcription has a relatively steep learning curve. True proficiency across a variety of medical specialties can take years to achieve. However, a basic level of competency can be achieved in a matter of months. The two primary educational phases are:

    1.   Learning the basics of terminology, anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, etc.
    2.   Practice, practice, practice.

    Both phases are important. The first phase can be accomplished in several different ways. There are several quality online medical transcription courses designed to teach the basics of Medical Transcription.

    The most important learning will occur through practice. Therefore, you should look for a course of instruction that provides ample opportunities for hands-on learning. To maximize results, it is necessary to churn through as much dictation as possible in a short period of time. Doing a little bit "now and then" as the mood strikes you is not an efficient method of learning. If you are serious enough to spend money on a course then you need to make a commitment to diligence and excellence.

    Learning transcription is very much like learning a second language. You can learn the basics in school, but until you apply it extensively in conversation you will never become fluent. There is another similarity as well. It can be referred to as the "aha" effect. After about three or four months of consistent and grueling effort, one day a light just seems to come on and you say to yourself "Aha! I see how it works! Hey, I can do this!" Up until that time no amount of convincing could make you believe that you have what it takes to succeed.

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    Experience has shown that the people who ultimately succeed in this field are those who can successfully get over that hump in a short period of time - 6 months or less. Too many individuals languish for months or years coming back to their studies intermittently and avoiding the often excruciating practice sessions. They never truly internalize the learning and as a consequence, most of the small progress they make is lost between sessions. It is a poor way of learning. Ultimately it is self-defeating.

    The better approach is to adopt the Nike slogan and "Just do it!" Set some specific short term goals and then stick to them until they become habit. If you can do this for a two week period then you will be well on your way.

    Do I need to be certified to work as a Medical Transcriptionist?

    The most important consideration in finding successful employment in this industry is your skill set. Certification is helpful but not necessary to advance a career. When people speak of certification in the Medical Transcription field, they are typically referring to certification with AHDI (Association for Healthcare Documentation Integrity) formerly AAMT (American Association of Medical Transcriptionists). The official designation of this organization is CMT - Certified Medical Transcriptionist.

    While the CMT is certainly highly regarded, it is by no means a prerequisite to entry into, or advancement within the field of medical transcription. Many competent trancriptionists do not have the designation. However, if your time and resources permit, it is something that should be seriously considered.

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    In addition to the CMT designation, there are a variety of certifications available through schools and home study courses. These certifications are typically awarded upon successful completion of a course of study in Medical Transcription. And while they are not equivalent to the CMT designation, they do provide evidence of a level of formal training.

    Ultimately the value of these certifications depends very much on the placement assistance provided with the course and the reputation of the school or course providor.

    Can I work from home?

    Medical transcription is an occupation that is ideally suited for home based employment. Because many transcriptionists are paid on the basis of production, employers have been quick to embrace flexible employment arrangements allowing transcriptionists to work from home.

    Because of recent advances in technology enabling seamless flows of information, the concept of home based employment has gained in popularity over the past several years. Skilled Transcriptionists wishing to work from home should have no problem finding home based work opportunities.

    What is the outlook for the Medical Transcription profession?

    The healthcare industry represents the world's first trillion-dollar industry. Healthcare expenditures as a percentage of our nation's Gross Domestic Product dwarf all other non-governmental expenditures. And demand for services has never been greater. Demographic changes such as an increased average life span and a rapidly aging population ensure that demand will remain strong well into the 21st century.

    Free Info on our recommended Medical Transcription Program leading to an exciting home based medical transcription career

    The timing is excellent for anyone interested in entering this exciting and lucrative field. Like any technology-intensive career, success will require patience and perseverance, but the opportunity to enter the medical transcription industry has never been greater than it is today.

    What impact will voice recognition technology have on the industry?

    Voice recognition technology has been threatening for some time to replace human transcriptionists. It turns out that there are a number of problems with this. For starters, the fluctuating speech patterns, accents and non-verbal noise common to one degree or another in the dictation process render voice recognition cumbersome at best and seriously flawed at worst.

    Voice recognition is far from a panacea. In its current state, the technology is unwieldy and inefficient. Even as the technology evolves, there will always be a need for expert oversight and rigid quality control to ensure that the content of transcribed reports is accurate and devoid of unintended material.

    Free Info on our recommended Medical Transcription Program leading to an exciting home based medical transcription career

    It is also not reasonable to expect highly paid physicians to assume responsibility for the editing, formatting and processing of large quantities of medical documents. Even if physicians were interested in assuming these duties - which most clearly are not - cost considerations would cry out against it. Basic economic theory suggests that a division of labor is the best course of action in an instance like this. Ultimately, it makes sense for a group of skilled medical transcription specialists to continue to manage the editing and processing functions of the medical records production process.

    It seems likely that there will always be a need for qualified medical transcriptionists. This is not to say that more sophisticated technology will not ultimately become capable of replacing or at least augmenting certain subsets of the transcription process. It seems unlikely, however, that computer software will depose traditional transcriptionists in the near term future.

    What role will Government and Business play in the future of Medical Transcription?

    The healthcare industry is, by its nature, very bureaucratic. Even though our healthcare delivery system is a private one, you can rest assured that the government will continue to play a key role in shaping its future. As a consequence, red tape and bureacracy will remain a part of the landscape for the forseeable future.

    At the same time, however, large corporations and other consumer organizations are beginning to step up and aggressively challenge traditional healthcare assumptions. They are streamlining processes and forcing a new level of economic efficiency into an industry that has historically enjoyed complete freedom in its pricing and delivery practices. Look for a continuation of the positive reforms that have been transforming the industry over the past decade.

    How can I find a job?

    Skilled Medical Transcriptionists generally have little trouble finding work. Most Medical Transcription operations are continually seeking new employees or contractors. The growth in the scope and complexity of medical records has been significant over the past several years and the demand for qualified help currently outstrips supply.

    Unfortunately, recent graduates of Vocational Schools and Medical Transcription training courses often have a more difficult time finding an employer who is willing to take a chance on them. This is largely due to the fact that it takes a number of years of consistent effort to become truly proficient in Medical Transcription. Most Hospitals and Transcription Companies insist on two to three years of experience as a minimum requirement of employment. It is a time consuming and expensive proposition to train a new employee. Many companies have trained employees only to watch them leave for better pay upon gaining the requisite experience.

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    There are few substitutes for hands-on experience. That is why the training programs which emphasize hands-on experience by requiring their students to work through a wide variety of actual dictation and related coursework tend to produce graduates who are more prepared for the real world.

    Some of the better training programs will also offer placement assistance to their graduates. If you are short on experience, this can be a real plus.

    Ultimately however, the burden of finding employment or contract work must rest on the individual. If used properly, the directories and resource materials in this Career Guide will open up a world of options for individuals willing to be proactive in their employment search.

    What other career advice can you offer?

    If you are serious about your career it is important that you manage it aggressively. This implies that you do not necessarily settle for the first thing that comes along. If you are currently working as a Medical Transcriptionist and are dissatisfied with your current situation, you should take special care not to jump at the first opportunity that presents itself - simply as a means of getting out of an unpleasant situation.

    Any move you make should be well calculated and meaningful. It should clearly move you in a positive direction. Be mindful of the fact that once you have made a move, you will typically be there for a while. That is why it is so important to make every move count. Make sure that every job change propels you to your next career plateau. You want to avoid making strictly lateral moves unless the new position will clearly provide an opportunity to gain a significant amount of valuable experience.

    It is important to set stretch goals. Set your sights high and then work aggressively to sell yourself to employers. Think about getting the specialty training you need if that is standing in the way of your progress.

    If you have not clearly thought through your career objectives then this is a good time to do so. Consider your objectives in the context of family, lifestyle, personal growth and income requirements.

    Individuals who are most successful in their careers are typically those who are proactive. Waiting for opportunities to come to you is not the best way to manage your career. Think about where you want to be and then go after it.

    How much money can I earn as a Medical Transcriptionist?

    This will be depend on a number of factors. Wage rates tend to vary considerably from one area of the country to another. Also, the method of payment will vary from company to company. Increasingly, transcription companies are paying on a production basis. This means that ultimately, the amount of money you make will be determined by your speed and proficiency.

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    An inexperienced Medical Transcriptionist will typically be better off with a compensation structure that guarantees an hourly wage. Securing a job with an hourly wage rate allows the new transcriptionist to earn a minumum amount of income during the least productive period of her career. Experienced transcriptionists are almost always better off being paid on production - provided they have the motivation to produce consistently.

    Annual income for full-time entry-level transcriptionists typing hospital reports averages between $24,000 - $35,000 - depending on location and proficiency. More experienced transcriptionists can expect to make double or even triple that amount on the basis of production - particularly if they are willing to develop their own customer base. Unfortunately, the pay differential between experienced and non-experienced transcriptionists is not typically as large in hospital settings where transcriptionists are often paid by the hour. This is one of the primary reasons that experienced transcriptionists tend to seek out positions as independent or sub-contractors where the opportunity exists to leverage their earnings potential.

    Are there opportunities to start my own business?

    In recent years, traditional hospitals have come under competitive attack by more efficient managed care organizations. In an effort to remain competitive, many hospitals have turned to outsourcing as a means of cutting costs. Many of the processes that were previously performed internally are now being contracted out to third parties. Medical transcription is no exception. The outsourcing of transcription and other functions relieves hospitals of the administrative headaches and overhead burdens associated with internal production and allows them to focus their attention on improving service and lowering costs.

    There is considerable evidence to suggest that contracting out medical transcription is a much less costly alternative to producing reports internally. Most savvy healthcare providers today understand this and are responding appropriately. The significant cost-cutting pressures which continue to drive the industry toward consolidation, managed care and capitation virtually guarantee that the outsourcing trend will not only continue but accelerate in coming years.

    This proliferation of outsourcing agreements has spawned a new generation of small medical transcription companies intent on carving out a piece of the pie. Interestingly, in spite of its rapid growth, the medical transcription industry is still considered a cottage industry. While there are a few truly national players, the industry is at this point still dominated by the hundreds of small local transcription companies located wherever hospitals are found.

    Am I better off working for a Hospital or a Medical Transcription Company?

    This depends on a number of factors. Some of these factors include:

  •   Level of Experience and Proficiency

  •   Income Requirements

  •   Benefit Requirements

  •   Importance of Freedom and Flexibility

  •   Personal Motivation

  •   Risk Tolerance

  • Hospitals tend to be more rigid and bureaucratic in their approach to human resources. They also tend to pay by the hour - which makes it difficult for experienced and productive transcriptionists to maximize their earnings potential.

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    On the other hand, large hospitals can offer benefits which far outweigh those provided by most medical transcription companies. These benefits may include guaranteed salaries, overtime pay, flex-time, sick leave, paid vacation, and perhaps most importantly - generous health care benefits. Also, if you are interested in pursuing a long term career as a Medical Records Director or Hospital Administrator, a large hospital system will typically provide more opportunities for upward mobility.

    Medical transcription contracting companies tend to appeal to individuals seeking to maximize personal income and flexibility. Many transcription companies pay on a production basis - which means that proficiency is rewarded. Also, many transcription companies allow their employees to tele-commute. Working from home can be a big draw for many individuals.

    Of course, working from home also has its drawbacks. A transcriptionist must be personally motivated in order to meet her production goals without continuous supervision. Also, distractions often abound - making it difficult to achieve a consistent level of production.

    Ultimately, both avenues provide tremendous opportunities for motivated individuals. Many transcriptionists migrate back and forth periodically as changes occur in their life. In any case, it is always a good idea to evaluate specific opportunities in depth before making final judgements.

    What is the difference between an independent contractor and a subcontractor?

    Independent Contractors

    Independent contractors essentially operate as small business entities. These individuals contract directly with hospitals and other healthcare providors to manage all or part of their medical transcription needs. This type of arrangement requires that the independent contractor assume total responsibility for the production and completion of the final product. This includes pick-up and delivery of work, distribution of work to one or more transcriptionists, ensuring turnaround requirements are met, and supervising quality control efforts. In addition, there are other administrative burdens such as billing, payroll, and taxes.

    Under these conditions, flexibility can be a double-edged sword. An independent contractor cannot simply take off on a vacation without making detailed arrangements for the continuation of workflows in her absence. On the other hand, an independent contractor is her own boss. Many of the most tedious activities can be delegated to administrative help; and noone is looking over her shoulder to tell her she cannot slip away for a ballgame or take an extended lunch break.

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    As an independent contractor, income is typically maximized. By definition, an independent contractor generates and keeps all the profit from each of her contracts. This can be significant for a skilled transcriptionist - particularly if she is willing to assume some or all of the transcription duties herself.


    The subcontractor also works independently. She is responsible for her own taxes, equipment, reference materials and office space (typically a home office). She also sets her own hours. The difference between a subcontractor and an independent contractor is that the subcontractor does not contract directly with the healthcare providor. She subcontracts from a medical transcription company.

    The medical transcription company has ultimate responsibility for the fulfillment of the contract. It assumes the logistical and administrative burdens of the contract. The subcontractor provides transcription services to the medical transcription company on a contract basis. That is to say there is no employment relationship.

    The primary benefit of being a subcontractor vs. an employee is flexibility. The subcontractor relationship is based solely on production. If a subcontractor completes her work early, she is free to do something else with her time.

    Another benefit is that many of the typical expenses related to producing the product will be tax deductible. This can be an important element of the subcontracting equation. In certain instances, it may also be possible to negotiate a higher rate of pay as a subcontractor.

    One of the primary drawbacks of the subcontracting relationship are that there are typically no guarantees. For this reason, most subcontractors establish relationships with a number of medical transcription companies to ensure that adequate work is always available to them.

    Another drawback to subcontracting is that the subcontractor must assume a number of administrative burdens - including managing the payroll and income tax reporting and payment processes.

    Be aware that working from your home does not automatically qualify you for subcontract status. There has been a movement in recent years by the IRS to challenge many so called "subcontract" relationships. There is a fine line between a home-based employment arrangement and a true subcontracting arrangement. You want to make sure that you understand the distinctions. To avoid potential problems, it is adviseable to seek professional advice before establishing yourself as an independent contractor or subcontractor.

    Are there associations that I can join?

    Yes. The Asssociation for Healthcare Documentation Integrity (AHDI) formerly the American Association of Medical Transcriptionists (AAMT) has been formed to advance the profession of Medical Transcription. The best way to explore the resources available from AHDI is to visit it's web site at www.ahdionline.org.

    You can also contact the AHDI directly at:

    4230 Kiernan Avenue Suite 130
    Modesto, CA 95356


    Free Info on our recommended Medical Transcription Program leading to an exciting home based medical transcription career

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