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 transcriptionists held about 52,400 jobs in 2020. The largest employers of medical transcriptionists were as follows:
- Administrative and support services - 36%
- Offices of physicians - 27%
- Hospitals; state, local, and private - 16%
- Self-employed workers - 6%
- Medical and diagnostic laboratories - 3%
Administrative and support services includes companies that provide transcription services.
Medical transcriptionists may work from home, receiving dictation and submitting drafts electronically.
Most medical transcriptionists work full time. Medical transcriptionists who work from home may work outside typical business hours and/or may have some flexibility in determining their schedules. Their work can be stressful because they need to ensure that reports are accurate within a quick turnaround time.
Education & Training Required
Employers prefer to hire transcriptionists who have completed postsecondary training in medical transcription offered by many vocational schools, community colleges, and distance-learning programs.
Completion of a 2-year associate’s degree or 1-year certificate program—including coursework in anatomy, medical terminology, legal issues relating to healthcare documentation, and English grammar and punctuation—is highly recommended, but not always required. Many of these programs include supervised on-the-job experience. Some transcriptionists, especially those already familiar with medical terminology from previous experience as a nurse or medical secretary, become proficient through refresher courses and training.
Formal accreditation is not required for medical transcription programs. However, the Approval Committee for Certificate Programs (ACCP)—established by the Association for Healthcare Documentation Integrity (AHDI) and the American Health Information Management Association—offers voluntary accreditation for medical transcription programs. Although voluntary, the completion of an ACCP-approved program may be required for transcriptionists seeking certification.
Other Skills Required
The AHDI awards two voluntary designations; Registered Medical Transcriptionist (RMT) and Certified Medical Transcriptionist (CMT). Medical transcriptionists who are recent graduates of medical transcription educational programs or who have fewer than 2 years’ experience in acute care may become a registered RMT. The credential is awarded upon successfully passing the AHDI level-1 registered medical transcription exam. The CMT designation requires at least 2 years of acute care experience using different format, report, and dictation types in multiple-specialty surgery areas. Candidates also must earn a passing score on a certification examination. Because medicine is constantly evolving, medical transcriptionists are encouraged to update their skills regularly. In order to be recertified, RMTs and CMTs must pay a recertification fee. In addition to the fee, RMTs must earn a minimum of 30 continuing education credits in required categories during their 3-year cycle. CMTs must successfully complete an online course and final exam during the 3-year cycle. As in many other fields, certification is recognized as a sign of competence.
Graduates of an ACCP-approved program who earn the RMT credential are eligible to participate in the Registered Apprenticeship Program sponsored by the Medical Transcription Industry Association through the U.S. Department of Labor. The program offers structured on-the-job learning and related technical instruction for qualified medical transcriptionists entering the profession.
In addition to understanding medical terminology, transcriptionists must have good English grammar and punctuation skills and proficiency with personal computers and word-processing software. Normal hearing acuity and good listening skills also are necessary. Employers usually require applicants to take preemployment tests.
How to Advance
With experience, medical transcriptionists can advance to supervisory positions, home-based work, editing, consulting, or teaching. Some become owners of medical transcription businesses. With additional education or training, some become medical records and health information technicians, medical coders, or medical records and health information administrators.
Employment of medical transcriptionists is projected to decline 7 percent from 2020 to 2030.
Despite declining employment, about 6,600 openings for medical transcriptionists are projected each year, on average, over the decade. All of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to other occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.
Technological advances have changed the way medical transcription is done. Speech recognition and electronic health records (EHR) software advances often allow physicians to create some of this documentation in the moment, reducing the need for transcriptionists.
The aging population and growing rates of chronic conditions will continue to increase demand for healthcare services. This will result in a growing number of medical tests and procedures, all of which will require transcription. However, technological advances, such as speech recognition software, allow transcriptions to be prepared by fewer medical transcriptionists.
As healthcare providers seek to cut costs, some will contract out transcription services and not do transcription in-house. Some of this work may be outsourced to other countries, which would reduce domestic employment.
The median annual wage for medical transcriptionists was $30,100 in May 2021. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $22,810, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $48,190.
In May 2021, the median annual wages for medical transcriptionists in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:
- Medical and diagnostic laboratories - $46,150
- Hospitals; state, local, and private - $38,360
- Offices of physicians - $36,750
- Administrative and support services - $29,120
Some medical transcriptionists are paid based on the volume of transcription they produce. Others are paid an hourly rate or an annual salary.
Most medical transcriptionists work full time. Medical transcriptionists who work from home may work outside typical business hours and/or have some flexibility in determining their schedules. Their work can be stressful because they need to ensure that reports are accurate within a quick turnaround time.