Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Medical Transcriptionist's Tools of the Trade

By Connie Limon

As the physician’s stethoscope, scalpel and tongue depressor, the medical transcriptionist’s tools of their trade are the typewriter, computer or word processor and the transcribing machine.

Over the past few decades of time the medical transcriptionist’s tools evolved into powerful, high efficiency productivity machines and devices. Let us take a look at the evolution of this equipment and “gasp” at just how far we have come.

The first typewriters appeared in the middle 1850s; however, it was not until much, much later that these machines were reliable for all clerical fields. The QWERTY keyboard (named because it had six keys just above the left hand’s home row) was designed to make it more difficult to type fast. Reason for this was to type fast during that time period meant jammed keys and wasted time.

I experienced some of these problems much later in history as I first learned to type on a manual Smith Corona typewriter. It was so frustrating to suddenly be stopped on the keyboard, all keys locked tight. I would have to manually free the keys to begin typing again.

At the ripe age of about 12 or 13, I was making some pretty good time, and that old model (about all we had even in those days) was rebelling against the speed demon that was at the control board. By the end of that summer I had taught myself to type at a speed of 80 to 90 w.p.m. on a manual typewriter, which was more than excellent.

An interesting piece of trivia may be appropriate right about here. The people who used these machines were called “typewriters.” Job descriptions appearing in 1910 newspapers listed more than 50 jobs for “typewriters who must be able to type 50 words per minute.” We now call the machines typewriters and the operators “typists.” However, the trend has continued to this day in that you will still see ads in local papers that refer to a need for medical transcribers rather than medical transcriptionists (MTs).

In the 1970’s we began to see a real change towards denoting MTs as a separate entity from the machines they use.

The next exciting step in technology was the IBM Selectric typewriter introduced in the early 1960s. It replaced the individual internal mechanical keys (the keys on my old portable Smith Corona that I had to manually un-stick to get started back on my quest to be the fastest typist that ever walked into a high school Typing I class in 1973. I actually accomplished that feat and for the duration of high school days earned the reputation of “Miss Expert Typist.” It was a rather nice position in that I often was called upon and gotten out of other classes to help with typing chores for various school projects. In high school at this time we all still had manual typewriters.

I was thrilled to find an IBM Selectric typewriter sitting on the desk at my first “real” job in typing. It was a breeze to use the IBM Selectric throughout the medical transcription test during that initial interview. I had been working out on all manuals. Speed was so much easier and never a jammed up key. I was in heaven!

The IBM Selectric typewriter had a spherical ball with all the necessary letters of the alphabet on it. The ball moved back and forth across the page, eliminating the need for the carriage, which also helped to increase speed. In 1972, the first of the self-correcting Selectric typewriters contained lift-off tape so that errors could be more quickly lifted off the page. Another reason to feel as though I was in heaven at this first job! Don’t think I did not take note of all these wonderful changes in the typewriter. I was overjoyed. No carbon paper either. This place had a full size Xerox copier. I was in love, believe me. I arrived at this built just for Connie office in 1979.

Ah, but there is more. In the late 1970s the electronic typewriter was introduced and was the forerunner to the word processing machines of today. My first electronic typewriter was a spanking brand new “Sharp” model. I soon forgot about my dear old friend, the IBM Selectric typewriter. This Sharp electronic typewriter was even better! Oh my God, speed and ease of typing was greatly improved. On clinic days, I could churn out those authorizations for payment about as quickly as the old Nuns layed the note on my desk. I had a good handle on things in that front office, still having a few problems answering the phone, but at the keyboard I was a real “pro.” I did have to use that messy carbon paper while typing the authorization for payment. There had to be 3 copies and an original, and no time to run to the copier each time I typed one.

Unfortunately the Crippled Children’s Clinic was reorganized through political powers and I never got any farther with technology than the Sharp electronic typewriter.

Real word processors and computers began to be available in the late 1970s. There was no real need in our clinic for these; however, we were introduced to some of the old “Wang” computer software programs. Those were a nightmare, and fortunately something that got tabled for our small office.

For MT’s in other organizations, they could input an entire page, check for errors, and then print that page, producing perfect pages and perfect carbons. Then the emphasis turned to personal computers (PCs) equipped with a variety of word processing software.

Another interesting bit of trivia about the evolution of a medical transcriptionist’s tools of the trade is that the machines used to record dictation can be traced back to Thomas Edison’s invention of the phonograph. President Warren Harding’s inaugural address was recorded, and through a relay system it was transcribed by a typist and sent to the major newspapers.

Of course since the 1970’s there have been many more advances in technology for the medical transcriptionist. I will talk about those in upcoming articles.

This article is FREE to publish with the resource box.

© 2007 Connie Limon All Rights Reserved

Written by: Connie Limon. Visit to learn more about the unique and wonderful profession of Medical Transcription. Sign up for our FREE newsletters about this career choice.

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