What Is Medical Transcription?

September 30, 2020
What Is Medical Transcription?

I’ve seen transcription needs change and adapt over the years, as new technology and ways of doing business impact what clients need. In 2020, it has been medical transcription that has come to the fore, as healthcare providers around the globe battle the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Medical transcribing is, of course, also used in a wide range of non-COVID-related settings. What is medical transcribing? We’ll cover that below, as well as exploring areas such as HIPAA compliance and specialised areas of medical translation. 

If you need a medical transcript, I invite you to read on. 

Medical Transcription – Defined

What is medical transcription? It is the process of transcribing medical information from audio files. These files are recordings of healthcare practitioners’ voices. Doctors, nurses and other medical professionals record their notes, then the medical transcriptionist – meaning a professional transcriber with medical knowledge – types it up.  

The medical transcription definition includes the transcribing of any dictated medical material, from case notes to lecture content. In some instances, physician dictation takes place over the phone. Increasingly, given the technology available these days, doctors’ dictation (and that of other medical professionals) is provided to the transcriber as a voice file through a smart phone app or over the internet. 

For a broader look at transcription services and how they could benefit you, you can click the link below. 

Read more: What are transcription services and why does your business need them?

What Makes Medical Transcription a Specialised Field?

I find a common misconception about transcription services is that there’s just one kind of transcriber, who can handle whatever transcribing work comes their way. In reality, transcription includes many specialise areas of work. 

What is a medical transcriptionist? A medical transcriptionist is a transcriber who has in-depth medical knowledge. It is this knowledge requirement that makes medical transcription a specialised field. 

The definition of medical transcription clearly assumes detailed medical knowledge and experience on the part of the transcriber. Without such experience, the process of producing the medical transcript would be long and arduous. I’m not saying it couldn’t be done by an intelligent transcriber without a medical background, but it would take much, much longer and be a far less efficient and cost-effective task. 

The reason that medical knowledge is a requirement for this specialised area of transcription is because medical transcribing involves:

  • Compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)
  • Extensive medical terminology knowledge
  • Experience in the medical field
  • Pharmaceutical terminology knowledge

Tired of reading? You can watch this video instead.


HIPAA Compliance

The requirements of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act apply to all those who deal with protected health information, including those providing medical records transcription. HIPPA exists to protect patients’ sensitive data. It means that those providing medical records transcribing services must have appropriate physical, process and network security measures in place. 

HIPAA’s requirements are stringent and in place for very good reasons. I find that those who are keen to undertake medical transcription work usually have a detailed understanding of their moral and ethical obligations when it comes to confidentiality. HIPAA is there to ensure that those obligations are fulfilled. 

Extensive Medical Terminology Knowledge

This is an absolute must. Medical record transcription includes the names of diseases, parts of the body, procedures, treatments and much, much more. I mentioned above that it might be possible for a non-medical transcriber to produce a medical transcript but doing so would involve spending so much time looking up medical terminology to check accuracy that it would quickly make the work unworthwhile.

A Transcriptionist with Experience in the Medical Field

Anyone can sit down with a medical dictionary or jump online and read about medical terms. However, I think it takes someone with first-hand experience of the medical field to really understand the context in which those terms are being used. And, of course, that understanding is what will make the transcription process faster, easier and more accurate. 

Pharmaceutical Terminology Knowledge

I find that knowledge of pharmaceutical terminology can also help to make medical transcription more efficient. If the transcriptionist is familiar with a wide range of medications, including their usage and their brand names, then they will be able to handle mentions of them during the transcription process much more efficiently than those who lack that knowledge. 

The Different Areas of Specialisation of Medical Transcription

While we define medical transcription above as a specialised service, it’s also worth noting that there are several specialist disciplines within the overarching medical transcription umbrella. Just as different types of doctors and different departments handle different conditions, so too do different types of medical transcribers. 

One of the reasons for this is the huge amount of specialist terminology that a single field of medicine can require knowledge of. Another is that the transcriber’s medical experience may well have centred around a particular area of healthcare. Some examples of medical transcription specialisations include: 

  • Fertility
  • Cardiology 
  • Bariatrics 
  • Endocrinology 
  • Family health
  • Psychiatry
  • Neurology

This is by no means an exhaustive list. That font of all knowledge, Wikipedia, lists over 85 different medical specialities. It’s possible to break these down even further too, resulting in over 100 different medical transcription specialisations. It’s not surprising then, that medical transcribers offer plenty of variety when it comes to their experience and specialist expertise. 

Right now, of course, one of the most sought-after specialisations relates to knowledge of infectious diseases (specifically, COVID-19). 

Pros and Cons of Hiring Professionals for Your Medical Transcription Projects

I should point out that you don’t have to hire a transcriber to type up your medical notes. Many doctors prefer to do so themselves. However, if you’re seriously pushed for time then medical transcription services can be a significant help. In light of this, I thought it might be worth exploring the pros and cons of medical transcription in a little more detail.  


The pros of medical transcription include:

  • High quality, accurate and well-presented medical notes, regardless of how up to date your own typing and word processing skills may be.
  • Guaranteed delivery times, so you know you’ll have the notes you need at the time you need.
  • HIPAA compliance, so you can be sure your notes are produced in a way that protects patients’ sensitive data.
  • The ability to outsource – you can buy in medical transcription as and when you need it, for example during particularly busy periods, without having to cover the cost of hiring additional staff to undertake the work. This can be a highly cost-effective long-term solution.
  • Management workload relief, so that you can focus on tasks other than typing. 



Medical transcription cons include:

  • Finding the right transcription company. I appreciate the trust that it takes to hand over sensitive patient information to another company. This means that finding the right company requires a rigorous selection process. You need to analyse their expertise, reputation, security procedures, costs and more. All of which takes time – time that you could be spending focusing on providing healthcare services. 
  • Security and privacy issues. By sending files outside of your network, whether over the internet or through a smartphone app, you’re introducing an additional element of risk to your patients’ information. Checking your medical transcription company is HIPAA compliant goes some way towards mitigating your risk. However, the fact remains that the more you transmit data, the more places in which you store it and the more people who handle it, the greater the potential for a security breach. 
  • Cost – using any medical transcription service means incurring a cost that you would otherwise not have to bear. 

How to Find the Right Medical Transcription Services

If you’re ready to use a medical records transcription service, it’s essential to put time into finding the right one. I appreciate that doing so will be a distraction from your day-to-day tasks, but it’s a time commitment that can, ultimately, save you a great deal of time further down the line, making it a worthwhile investment of your time upfront. 

Finding the right medical transcription services for your needs is key. You need a service that operates smoothly and efficiently. One that you can send your audio files to and know that the medical transcripts will be produced without generating multiple interruptions to your work and without you needing to chase up the transcriptionist repeatedly after yet another deadline has been missed. 

If you’ve not used medical transcribing before, I recommend asking around your professional network for recommendations (of course, I also highly recommend using Tomedes’ professional medical transcribers). If you aim to shortlist three or four companies, you’ll be able to grill each of them on their approach to security, timescales, commitment to accuracy, medical experience and so forth, then see how they compare. 

You’ll also need to discuss costs. I mentioned the cost above as one of the cons of using medical transcribing. However, if you factor in the cost of your own time, then it becomes much easier to view the transcription cost as being offset against that. Still, that doesn’t mean that you don’t need to get value for money from the transcription service you use, so find out which of the agencies you’re looking at provides the best value (and note that I say ‘best value’ rather than ‘lowest cost’ as there are distinct differences between those two). 

One area to focus on particularly is the transcriber’s medical experience. The more closely this relates to your own medical specialism, the better. If you work with a medical transcription agency, rather than an individual transcriber, you will likely have access to a far wider range of specialist experience and expertise. 

Medical transcription companies may also have the edge when it comes to HIPAA compliance, as businesses with their own IT teams tend to have more time and energy to devote to electronic and data security matters. I’m generalising, clearly, but it’s a point that needs careful consideration when you choose who to appoint to undertake your medical records transcription work. 

Once you have your shortlist, it’s a good idea to ask each of the transcribers to undertake a test transcription. This can help you to assess not just the quality of the resulting medical transcript, but also things such as customer service and adherence to deadlines. 

I would caution here that you’re essentially asking for them to work for free, so don’t make the test too long and bear in mind that some transcription companies may be reluctant to provide free tests as it takes their transcriptionists’ time away from paid work. For any test that you do assign (and every recording for that matter), always speak as clearly as possible so that you get the best results.

Make sure you check out the transcription services that you shortlist online as well. Look for recent reviews and ones that relate to your particular medical specialism, if at all possible. You can click the link below for a list of the best transcription companies, to get you started. 

Read more: The Best Transcription Services in 2021 


In this article, I’ve shared a range of insights into medical transcription, including:

  • What medical transcription is
  • Why it’s a specialist service
  • The pros and cons of transcribing medical records 
  • Why HIPAA compliance is so important
  • What you need to do to find a decent medical transcriptionist 

Hopefully, by now, you’re keen to track down the perfect medical transcriber, so that they can start seamlessly freeing up your time to focus on weightier matters. I hope that you’ve found the medical transcription info useful. If you would like to know more, Tomedes’ friendly team would be delighted to talk you through the medical transcription process in further detail, from what we provide to how it could benefit you. Simply contact us to get started. 

By Ofer Tirosh

Ofer Tirosh is the founder and CEO of Tomedes, a language technology and translation company that supports business growth through a range of innovative localization strategies. He has been helping companies reach their global goals since 2007.



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