The Dark Side of Medical Transcription

Vol. 19 • Issue 2 • Page 19

We hear about it here at ADVANCE, but we don’t often broach the topic. We field calls from flustered MTs whose employers won’t pay. We peruse message boards where MTs decry so-called scam schools and gripe on companies who cheat them on line counts. We receive letters to the editor riddled with exclamation points, disparaging the MT industry and all of its ills. It’s the dark side of medical transcription.

On our staff blog, we asked readers to share their tales of woe at the hands of medical transcription. We garnered quite a few responses, and while it would be easy (and somewhat tempting) to simply divulge the horror stories at hand, there’s more to the tales. In each one is a lesson learned, a mistake that won’t be made a second time and an MT willing to share her story in the hopes that others would learn from it.

In the end, we spoke to three very seasoned MTs (the average experience between them is 29 years). During the interviews, it was obvious they had a lot in common besides their long tenures in transcription. Each had stumbled headlong into transcription at a time when she was somewhat desperate for a job. Each woman expressed passion for medical transcription, a love of words, of patients’ stories and getting those stories written. Unfortunately, all the MTs also experienced pitfalls as they made their way through the world as transcriptionists. Some of their stories may be similar to yours. By peeking into this dark side, we hope to help other MTs avoid the troubles that befell our three sources.

Lessons from an MT Veteran

Trudy Schaefer Looney has seen it all. She started transcribing in 1965, and remembers struggling to succeed. “I desperately needed a job,” she recalled. “I was totally unqualified, and they hired me anyway, and it was the hardest thing I ever did.”

Looney would find her footing in transcription, a field she worked in right up until last year. She even got her daughter involved, who put herself through school by transcribing reports. In her time working in medical transcription, Looney held a variety of positions, and each came with its share of horror stories. As a service owner, people stole her books and her clients, and with the books, they were sneaky-the culprits would take a razor blade to chop out the pages, which Looney would find missing days later.

She worked for 20 years as an instructor and experienced more theft-this time it was the key to the practice tapes. She taught at several community colleges, and was at times chided for not presenting the bright and sunny side of medical transcription: you know, the one from the commercials on late-night TV. “It was, you’re going to learn this very easily, and when you’re done in a few months, you’ll make a lot of money and be able to watch your children,” Looney noted. “Totally untrue.”

While supervising other MTs, Looney observed them cheating with line counts. As an in-house MT, she watched her colleagues type up error-ridden reports, all the while griping about being underpaid. As an independent contractor, she chased people-including the government-for money owed. In all of her experiences, Looney noted one common theme: apathy. “Nobody cares,” she lamented.

Despite her bad experiences, Looney doesn’t regret getting into the field of medical transcription. “It provided a living for me and my children when I was a single parent,” she explained. “I met a lot of wonderful people along the way, and I actually met my husband because I had this business.”

Looney attributes many of the issues she ran into, especially the apathy, to MTs being undervalued. Administrators look at transcription as an expense, she said, when instead they should see it as an asset. There are good and bad people everywhere, in every profession, but until transcription is recognized as a valuable profession, the problems will continue. “Somebody needs to get in there and educate people about transcription,” Looney said. “There are other jobs in the medical field besides nursing or being a doctor, and I do try to educate people about that.”

Another problem with the field comes from the same issues that Looney saw when she worked as an educator-the hype. The ads run on TV saying that it’s so easy to break into the field, and Looney said that’s part of what contributes to MTs being undervalued. Just to see what it would be like, Looney attended one of the seminars (you know the ones) held near her hometown and hosted by a certain medical transcription program, a so-called “matchbook school.” “I was just horrified about what they were telling people, and I wanted to stand up and shout at all the people in the audience and say, don’t believe a word of this. It’s not what they’re saying at all!” she said.

Looney’s many experiences provide myriad lessons. If you’re an MT, have pride in what you do and do what you can to promote the field. Looney wishes she would’ve known more about the business side of transcription, as well, so if you’re thinking of going into business, do research and learn all you can before taking the plunge. “I was horribly ignorant,” Looney recalled. “I knew my words, and I thought that would be enough.”

Another lesson from her experiences-and this one’s for those thinking of entering the field-is to do your homework when it comes to choosing a school. Don’t be drawn in by a commercial or a get-rich-quick type of seminar. Talk to people in the field and find out how they landed jobs and how they got into the field. Be wary and don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Lynn Jusinski is an associate editor with ADVANCE.