Dear Susan: Productivity & Acceptable Variation in Medical Transcription

Dear Susan—

I’m in the middle of Clinic Notes right now, and I’m upset with all the mistakes! Some of the keys aren’t right, with incomplete sentences left uncorrected and punctuation that doesn’t follow the rules I learned in school. I’m a perfectionist, and I cannot stand it! I’m also worried when doctors leave things out and make mistakes—in one report a doctor referred to a female patient as “he” a couple of times! I feel like I have to double-check every word to make sure the doctor’s right, and there’s so much research I don’t think I will ever finish the course at this rate, let alone be able to make money with it. Help!

Tearing At My Hair

Dear Hair Tearer—

A supervisor at a large MTSO once sent me this:

“I see this a lot from newly graduated MTs; they are obsessed with every little thing and waste far too much time trying to make sure the document is picture perfect. We are all perfectionists by nature, which is why we gravitated to this field of work in the first place. However, it is important to realize what is worthy of your time.

With our company, error points are NEVER issued for punctuation unless the omission or insertion of the mark of punctuation changes the meaning of the sentence. Worrying over a period versus semicolon, for example, is a complete waste of time.

I recently had to terminate an MT because she was obsessing over every single little correction, wasting time poring over her corrected reports and sending editing challenges rather than transcribing. She had awesome accuracy, no doubt, but her production was the pits. She was unable/unwilling to let go of her obsession and focus on production. After months of counseling, I was forced to terminate her for lack of production.”

Learn to be adaptable enough to accept differing account preferences, and realize that spoken communication includes many features (like contractions, “umms,” backtracks, etc.) that should be left out of a transcribed document; in addition, accept that grammar guidelines for MT are often different from the rules taught in English classes. Finally, trust the doctors to know what they’re doing. An MT can often make a left versus right or a gender correction, but you don’t need to research an open-heart surgery to make sure the doctor performed it correctly. The discrepancies you see in the keys are examples of acceptable variation, not errors. Keep this in mind: if you’re working within the instructions given, you’re okay. If there are a couple of ways to punctuate a sentence and your instructions don’t specify which way is preferred, then either way is acceptable.

Right now, as a student, it’s okay to go slow. Learn as much as you can from each report. One of the things to internalize is how to be flexible and adaptable. In the workplace, you must strike a balance with production and accuracy so you’ll be good at both.

Best of luck!

Susan Tuckett, CMT

Career Step Student Support Team

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