What is Medical Transcription?
Medical and healthcare-related jobs are booming right now. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), healthcare careers are set to grow by 14 percent between 2018 and 2028. This is much faster than average job growth and indicates that medical and allied health careers will be plentiful for years to come.
Some healthcare careers—surgeons, physicians, nurses, physician assistants—require years of school with expensive tuition costs. Others, like those in the allied health professions, require much less training. With a career in allied health, you could be working and earning in a matter of months. One of those allied health careers is medical transcription. Learn more about what this means and what transcriptionists do to determine if it might be your future career.
About Allied Health Careers
Also known as healthcare support careers or occupations, these are the jobs that support the work of nurses, doctors and administrators. They assist in the delivery of health services to patients in a number of ways. Their work is important because they are responsible for patient safety, communication, billing, organization and other details that help medical facilities run more smoothly.
Some examples of allied health careers include medical or dental assistants, nursing assistants, physical therapy assistants, home health aides, massage therapists, pharmacy aides and more. Some allied health professionals work indirectly in healthcare, behind the scenes rather than with patients. These include medical billing and coding specialists and medical transcriptionists.
Medical Transcription Defined
Medical transcription is the process of typing out a voice recording made by a healthcare professional. Doctors, nurses and others record transcriptions to describe patient symptoms, test results, diagnoses and other information. They keep track of observations and thoughts and record communications intended for other healthcare professionals. The recordings serve as patient medical records.
Recording these notes and reports is easier and more time efficient for busy medical professionals and allows them to spend more time working hands-on with patients and doing other important work. A medical transcription translates these audio recordings into typed reports that can be stored online or printed.
What Medical Transcriptionists Do
The main job of a medical transcriptionist, also known as a medial transcriber or medical language specialist, is to transcribe recordings. They use special equipment, audiophiles, computers, apps and other devices to do their work. There is more to the job than simply listening and typing, though. A full list of the potential duties you will have in this important career includes:
- Listen to recordings made by doctors, nurses or other medical workers
- Interpret the recordings and transcribe them into reports, which may include patient records or history, notes from a patient examination, referral letters, discharge summaries and other medical and health documents
- Use speech recognition software to transcribe audio files, and then edit, correct mistakes, and craft a report or document
- Translate abbreviations and medical jargon and convert it into longhand terms
- Review transcriptions to find any errors that may compromise patient safety and health
- Make any follow up calls with medical professionals for clarification or to address potential mistakes in records
- Submit reports to physicians and other medical professionals
- Enter reports into the electronic health records system
- Learn and follow guidelines for patient confidentiality
Transcriptionists may work in acute care, meaning they prepare documents mostly for hospitals and urgent care facilities, or they may work in a specialty: radiology, surgery, internal medicine, pharmacy and other areas of medical specialty.
Medical transcribers also need to know how to use the required technologies, such as apps and audio files, in order to do the job. Most professionals use audio playback equipment that allows them to change the speed of the recording and to quickly skip back or ahead to transcribe efficiently and quickly.
Speech recognition software has also become more common in the industry, but it still requires a transcriptionist to review, edit and catch errors. The importance of the resulting documents for patient health and safety means that the specialized knowledge of a transcriptionist is necessary even with this software.
Important Skills for Medical Transcriptionists
A career in medical transcription doesn’t take years to train for, but it does require very specific skills and knowledge. You must be able to type quickly and use transcribing equipment. You need an eye for detail and the ability focus on the details of a dictation in order to catch errors or potential issues. This is essential for patient safety.
Medical transcriptions also need a basic level of medical knowledge. They need to understand the terminology physicians use when making recordings so that they can not only transcribe them but also review and edit them accurately.
Doctors use acronyms, abbreviations and shortened terminology the transcriber must understand. This means you need to have an education in anatomy and physiology, medical terminology, pharmacology, medical treatments and diagnostic procedures.
Where Do Medical Transcriptionists Work?
According to the BLS, about one-third of medical transcriptionists work for health administration and support services companies, rather than directly for medical facilities of offices. About 23 percent work in physicians’ offices, while about 21 percent work in hospitals. A handful of transcriptionists are self-employed and contract their services to companies. Transcriptionists may also be hired by diagnostic and medical laboratories.
While most medical transcriptionists work full-time, not all work in offices. Some work from home. This can provide greater flexibility for working hours. Those working in physician offices may have additional administrative duties, such as filing or answering the telephones.
How to Become a Medical Transcriptionist
Because there are specialized skills and knowledge needed to do this job, you must complete some type of training program. You can find medical transcription programs online or at career and community colleges. Most confer certificates or diplomas, not degrees, and take less than a year to complete. Some schools do offer a two-year associate degree in medical transcription.
A comprehensive program includes courses in health information, medical terminology, body systems or anatomy and physiology, electronic medical records, medical billing, health insurance, healthcare law and ethics, patient confidentiality, and pathology and pharmacology. Transcription courses should include actual practice transcribing real medical dictations with feedback.
After completing a program for medical transcription, you may want to earn certification. This is not necessarily required, but it does make you a more desirable job candidate for many employers. The Association for Healthcare Documentation Integrity is the recognized organization for certifying medical transcriptionists. It offers two credentials:
- Registered Healthcare Documentation Specialist (RHDS). The first level is RHDS, which is for recent graduates with less than two years of experience working in transcription in an acute care setting, such as a hospital. It is also appropriate for transcriptionists with more experience who work in a single area of specialty.
- Certified Healthcare Documentation Specialist (CHDS). To earn the CHDS level of credential, you must already be an RHDS and have at least two years’ experience working in acute care or in multiple specialties.
To achieve either credential, you must pass the qualifying examination. A good program for medical transcription will prepare you to pass the exams and get certified. To maintain certification requires that you earn continuing education credits every three years.
What Are the Benefits of Becoming a Medical Transcriptionist?
The BLS reports that there is a small decline in careers for medical transcriptionists, but as the entire healthcare industry continues to grow rapidly, there is still plenty of work for trained professionals. The slight contraction in jobs means it is especially important to get trained and certified before entering the field.
Training and getting certified typically takes less than a year, so you can decide on this career and be working and earning soon. You won’t have to spend a lot on tuition compared to many other healthcare roles. Because there are required skills for transcribing, you can expect to earn a decent salary. The median annual salary is $33,380, but transcriptionists in certain specialties earn more. For instance, those working in laboratories have a median salary of $41,660. The top earning medical transcriptionists earn more than $51,000 per year.
Another benefit of this career is flexibility. Transcriptionists increasingly work from home. This means that you can set your own schedule and working hours. Some transcriptionists work as freelancers, contracting out their services, which provides even more flexibility in total working hours. It is most often full-time, but this job can be part-time.
Medical transcription is an important part of the healthcare industry. Physicians and others rely on these professionals to provide timely and accurate reports based on their notes and dictations. Without good transcription, patient health and safety are at risk. You need an eye for detail and the patience to listen to medical jargon and translate it. But, if you can train for this and do it well, you can earn a great living and make an important contribution to healthcare and medicine.