First, here’s the good news: Medical transcription is a real and viable work-at-home profession. The bad news? You’ll be wading through a lot of online scams and poorly cobbled together training programs before you find the real job opportunities. For example, check out this one reviewer’s comment about futuremt.com:
Luckily, I put together several resources that you can use when deciding to train as a medical transcriptionist (MT). To begin with, let’s define what medical transcription involves as far as patient care is concerned.
What exactly is medical transcription?
When you go to the doctor, she will typically perform a routine physical or other health assessments. You may also chat with her about any health concerns you have. The doctor then leaves you in the exam room for several minutes and eventually returns with either your prescription, follow-up appointment plan, etc. What is the doctor actually doing while you get dressed and then start looking at your watch, wondering what’s keeping her all this time?
In actuality, the doctor is probably dictating her notes about your appointment into a voice recorder. These notes may be recorded on a handheld digital recorder, but more than likely they are sent through a phone/computer line connected to an in-house server. This server will later transfer that recording to a transcription service office, after which an MT will transcribe it into a document known as an EHR (electronic health record).
The state of the industry
In the past, MTs were all employed by a doctor or hospital and showed up at the office. Nowadays, with voice recordings being in digital format and saved on servers, many MTs have become independent contractors (ICs) and work from home. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, starting MTs earn roughly $16/hour or about $34K/year. Some MTs get paid by the line, so their pay rates vary greatly depending on how accurate and/or speedy they are with transcription.
These IC pay rates are still far less than the rates that employed MTs make, especially given that ICs do not obtain work benefits such as health insurance and 401(k) plans. The (possible) silver lining is that, because it costs less to hire an MT as an IC, this work-at-home field will grow and offer even more work opportunities in the future. Also, as an MT gains experience and therefore processing speed, his pay per hour or line can increase.
Finally, the Advance Healthcare Network offers an in-depth analysis of salary ranges for various health information professionals; because reported pay rates are increasing year-over-year, you could use these statistics as part of your “negotiation arsenal” when asking for a higher rate per hour or line.
What you need to get started
Theoretically, one does not need any training in order to be an MT. However, most medical offices are loathe to hire just anyone who doesn’t possess some “proven” skill set. Community colleges and vocational schools offer MT programs that take about six months to a year to complete. There are also online training programs that enable you to learn and test at home.
Let me just say that there are many, and I do mean many, online training programs out there, with every one claiming to be the best. Unfortunately, many of these programs, as the online review above attests, are not much more than shams designed to take your money.
If you really wish to find a quality MT training program, you are advised to first check out the Association for Healthcare Documentation Integrity (AHDI); this professional organization (which used to go under the name of the American Association for Medical Transcription) reviews and approves various MT training programs (e.g., Comprehensive Medical Training program). The American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) also reviews and recommends MT training programs.
For examples of MT training programs that have gotten high reviews from the AHDI and AHIMA as well as former students and employers, check out The Andrews School (top-notch) and Career Step (a decent runner up). Be forewarned; these programs are more expensive than the “normal” training programs. However, at least in the case of MT training, you do get what you pay for.
MT Certification programs
Many MTs go on to obtain certification; this step is entirely optional but highly recommended in order to improve one’s chances of finding a job. It’s a plain fact that many transcription agencies advertise MT positions that require at least two years of experience. As a result, the newly-minted MT often gets stuck in a Catch-22 situation of not having the experience to get the job to get the experience. What can she do?
To this end, there is a certification program available to MTs from ADHI that can help get them get hired with an agency even if they have no work experience. This certification program is available only to MTs that are just starting out and have less than two years of work experience. Upon completion, the MT earns the letters Registered Medical Transcriptionist, or RMT.
ADHI also offers training to become a Certified Medical Transcriptionist, or CMT. The CMT is awarded to RMT holders who have over two years of work experience.
Certification enables MT newbies to prove that they are capable in their profession and to also negotiate for a higher pay rate. If at all possible, certification is highly recommended.
MT agencies and job boards
Just like there are many MT online training programs, there are also many MT online job agencies. Some of the better known agencies include Accentus, Eight Crossings, Fast Chart, M*Modal and Nuance Transcription Services.
Flexjobs lists numerous MT job opportunities; however, be advised that Flexjobs is a subscription-based job board. There is also a dedicated (and free!) job board intended solely for MT professionals at mtjobs.com. Finally (and with special thanks to Cynthea), there is the Yahoo! group MTStars, which offers several discussion boards about medical transcription companies and an MT job board.