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14-Mar. 2011

The Medical Transcriptionist Career

One of the most stable and well paying health care careers today is enjoyed by Medical Transcriptionists. It is with good reason that we feature several schools that offer this training and can help someone get started.

Here is what the Bureau of Labor Statistics has to say:

Nature of the work

Medical transcriptionists listen to dictated recordings made by physicians and other healthcare professionals and transcribe them into medical reports, correspondence, and other administrative material. They generally listen to recordings on a headset, using a foot pedal to pause the recording when necessary, and key the text into a personal computer or word processor, editing as necessary for grammar and clarity. The documents they produce include discharge summaries, medical history and physical examination reports, operative reports, consultation reports, autopsy reports, diagnostic-imaging studies, progress notes, and referral letters. Medical transcriptionists return transcribed documents to the physicians or other healthcare professionals who dictated them for review and signature or correction. These documents eventually become part of patients’ permanent files.

To understand and accurately transcribe dictated reports, medical transcriptionists must understand medical terminology, anatomy and physiology, diagnostic procedures, pharmacology, and treatment assessments. They also must be able to translate medical jargon and abbreviations into their expanded forms. To help identify terms appropriately, transcriptionists refer to standard medical reference materials—both printed and electronic; some of these are available over the Internet. Medical transcriptionists must comply with specific standards that apply to the style of medical records and to the legal and ethical requirements for keeping patient information confidential.

Experienced transcriptionists spot mistakes or inconsistencies in a medical report and check to correct the information. Their ability to understand and correctly transcribe patient assessments and treatments reduces the chance of patients receiving ineffective or even harmful treatments and ensures high-quality patient care.

Currently, most healthcare providers use either digital or analog dictating equipment to transmit dictation to medical transcriptionists. The Internet has grown to be a popular mode for transmitting documentation. Many transcriptionists receive dictation over the Internet and are able to quickly return transcribed documents to clients for approval. Also, because of the popularity of using the Internet to transmit documentation, many medical transcription departments are beginning to work closely with programmers and information systems staff to stream in voice communication that provides seamless data transfers through network interfaces. This practice allows medical transcriptionists the convenience of having hand-held personal computers or personal data assistants (PDAs) that utilize software for dictation.

Another increasingly popular method uses speech recognition technology, which electronically translates sound into text and creates drafts of reports. Transcriptionists then format the reports; edit them for mistakes in translation, punctuation, or grammar; and check for consistency and any wording that doesn’t make sense medically. Transcriptionists working in specialties such as radiology or pathology, which have standardized terminology, are more likely to use speech recognition technology, a medium that will become more widespread in all specialties as it becomes more sophisticated and is better able to recognize and more accurately transcribe diverse modes of speech.

Medical transcriptionists who work in physicians’ offices may have other office duties, such as receiving patients, scheduling appointments, answering the telephone, and handling incoming and outgoing mail. Medical secretaries, discussed in the statement on secretaries and administrative assistantselsewhere in the Handbook, also may perform transcription as part of their jobs.

Work environment. The majority of these workers are employed in comfortable settings, such as hospitals, physicians’ offices, transcription service offices, clinics, laboratories, medical libraries, government medical facilities, or their own homes. Many medical transcriptionists telecommute from home-based offices.

Workers usually sit in the same position for long periods. They can suffer wrist, back, neck, or eye problems caused by strain and risk repetitive motion injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome. The constant pressure to be accurate and productive also can be stressful.

Many medical transcriptionists work a standard 40-hour week. Self-employed medical transcriptionists are more likely to work irregular hours—including part time, evenings, and weekends. Some may be on call at any time.

Job Outlook

Employment of medical transcriptionists is projected to grow about as fast as the average; job opportunities should be good, especially for those who are certified.

Employment change. Employment of medical transcriptionists is projected to grow by 11 percent from 2008 to 2018, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Demand for medical transcription services will continue to be spurred by a growing and aging population. Older age groups receive proportionally greater numbers of medical tests, treatments, and procedures that require documentation. A high level of demand for transcription services also will be sustained by the continued need for electronic documentation that can be shared easily among providers, third-party payers, regulators, consumers, and health information systems. Growing numbers of medical transcriptionists will be needed to amend patients’ records, edit documents from speech recognition systems, and identify discrepancies in medical reports.

Contracting out transcription work overseas and advancements in speech recognition technology are not expected to significantly reduce the need for well-trained medical transcriptionists. Outsourcing transcription work abroad—to countries such as India, Pakistan, Philippines, Barbados, and Canada—has grown more popular as transmitting confidential health information over the Internet has become more secure; however, the demand for overseas transcription services is expected only to supplement the demand for well-trained domestic medical transcriptionists. In addition, reports transcribed by overseas medical transcription services usually require editing for accuracy by domestic medical transcriptionists before they meet U.S. quality standards.

Speech recognition technology allows physicians and other health professionals to dictate medical reports to a computer, which immediately creates an electronic document. In spite of the advances in this technology, the software has been slow to grasp and analyze the human voice, the English language, and the medical vernacular with all its diversity. As a result, there will continue to be a need for skilled medical transcriptionists to identify and appropriately edit the inevitable errors created by speech recognition systems and to create a final document.

Job prospects. Job opportunities will be good, especially for those who are certified. Hospitals will continue to employ a large percentage of medical transcriptionists, but job growth will be in other industries. An increasing demand for standardized records should result in rapid employment growth in physicians’ offices, especially in large group practices.

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